State Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, asked a crowd of supporters Wednesday to help him fend off perhaps the first serious political challenge he has faced since being elected to the General Assembly 16 years ago.
Long, the state Senate president pro tem, officially launched his re-election campaign with a kick-off party at his Fort Wayne headquarters. He told the crowd of several dozen Republicans that he will need their help more than ever to defeat a Democratic opponent backed by labor groups angered by the new “right-to-work” law and recent education reforms.
“There’s been a very large group of special interests who have decided it would be good if I were no longer in the state Senate,” Long said.
Long faces Tom Keen, a business development executive with ITT Exelis and 20-year Navy veteran, in the November election. Keen is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and serves on the board of Science Central.
While Long overall has a vast financial advantage in the race, Keen raised more than twice as much money as the Republican in the first four months of 2012, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports. Much of Keen’s fundraising came from unions and pro-Democrat political-action committees.
“We’ve ruffled some feathers, and there are those who would like to see me out of office and will bankroll my opponent,” Long said.
Keen, meanwhile, pointed to the lopsided fundraising totals as proof that “big labor” was not pouring large amounts of money into his campaign. In all, Long had more than $450,000 on hand through April, while Keen ended the same reporting period with less than $9,000.
“He has $400,000 in the bank. I’ve got $10,000. You explain to me how I’m being bankrolled by ‘big labor,’” Keen said. “It’s ludicrous.”
Without a large war chest, Keen said he would rely on old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning, hoping to outwork the incumbent.
But Long said he would not take a win for granted at a time when many voters are frustrated with politicians from Washington to Indianapolis. Six-term U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar’s loss in the primary showed the danger of getting too comfortable, said Long’s campaign manager, Chris Creighton. Still, Long finds himself in the unfamiliar position of having to defend his seat against a viable opponent.
“We’ve seen what can happen when people take things for granted,” Creighton said. “For (Long) it’s a completely different scenario because he hasn’t faced a serious challenge in a long time.”
Even though the state Senate leader cannot author laws, Long reminded his supporters Wednesday of bills he sponsored in the past and the General Assembly’s broad reforms under GOP control over the last two years.
He listed property tax caps, local government ethics reforms, education reform and the divisive “right-to-work” bill among his biggest achievements as pro tem. Keen pointed to those acts as signs of an out-of-control Republican state legislature. Backlash against the aggressive GOP agenda will help carry him to victory, Keen said.
“I thought the last two years in Indianapolis under Republican control was out of control and out of touch,” he said.
Long was first elected to the state Senate in 1996 and has not faced a Democratic opponent since 2000.