I attended the 9th District GOP candidates debate last night in North Vernon and was glad that I did. There is nothing like watching the candidates gathered together and answering questions to get a better idea of how they respond to issues and situations. It was very enlightening. Hats off to Mark Holwager and his wife and the Jennings County GOP for a very well organized and well run show!
The format was well thought out and went very well. Each candidate was given the opportunity for a 3 minute introduction, the order determined by a draw beforehand. Mike Sodrel went first followed by Rick Warren, Todd Young and finally Travis Hankins. That order was reversed for the end comments by each. Questions were asked by the moderator and each candidate given the opportunity to respond for 3 minutes. An opportunity for a one minute rebuttal was given to each also.
I must admit that my mind was changed during this debate. Like many others I have felt that the GOP needs some newer fresh candidates to attract more young folks and to change the old stereotypes that have been perpetuated about the party for a number of years. Because of those concerns I was glad to see candidates like Todd Young and Travis Hankins in this race. Of those two I had felt that Todd Young was a very promising candidate because of his extensive resume, which includes military service (Naval Academy and Marine intelligence officer), political service (aide to Senator Lugar) and his legal experience. And I appreciate Travis Hankins for his strong conservative philosophy and his grassroots campaigning and ability to motivate a great number of folks to his candidacy. Rick Warren should be commended for his courage at taking on his run but he is much too laid back for this type of thing. That leaves Mike Sodrel, the perennial Baron Hill opponent, making his fifth run at this thing. When Mike announced he was running again, I was disappointed. I felt that he should have deferred to one of the younger guys and offered his resources and expertise to one of them and help build a younger GOP. I was one of those really disappointed at his last run, I thought he should have done better. I felt his time had come and gone.
But watching the debate last night changed my mind. Of the four candidates Mike Sodrel, I felt, was the most polished, gave the better responses, had a better command of the issues and presented himself as the best candidate to beat Baron Hill in the fall. Todd Young spent the night taking potshots at Sodrel's record and trying to draw Sodrel into a fracas. The first couple times it seemed legitimate but, over time, it grew tiresome. And the crowd sensed that it was tiresome, it seemed like he was trying to conduct a prosecution. Every time Travis responded to a question he would speak as if he was in front of a large crowd without the benefit of a PA system. He was literally shouting in a clipped campaign style that did not seem appropriate for this type of setting. Sodrel seemed relaxed and was able to provide examples of his previous term in Congress to issues like immigration, national defense and tax policy. Philosophically, there is not much separating the four. They all support term limits, are pro-life, favor strong national defense and want to secure our borders. But of the four I felt Mike Sodrel has the benefit of having been there before and knowing what to expect and how to get things done in Congress. He has been toe to toe with Baron Hill four times and knows what to expect from him and how to push his buttons. Judging from last night's performance I'm afraid any of the other GOP candidates would get eaten alive by Baron in any kind of a debate setting.
Then there are the practical, poltical considerations of money, organization, name recognition and connections. Mike Sodrel wins ALL of those among these four candidates. He can raise money and has his own. He has an organization built in the part of the district that has the most voters. He has the name recognition (for better or worse) in the district and he is connected with the National Republican Congressional Committee and has the endorsement of Mike Pence.
Todd Young and Travis Hankins are great young GOP candidates. I am glad they are in this race and I encourage them to continue building their organizations and building a younger more conservative 9th District GOP. But for this race, this year, against Baron Hill - I will be supporting Mike Sodrel. - SP