In the now-celebrated “Gingrich Class” of House Republicans elected in ’94—the largest class of GOP freshmen since 1946—was John Hostettler of Indiana’s 8th District. An almost wonderfully naïve engineer and first-time office-seeker, Hostettler had unseated a six-term Democratic incumbent. The Almanac of American Politics dubbed him “an ingenuous and idealistic man who seems miscast in politics.” He has bucked the Bush party line on significant occasions and done so without posturing as a media-seeking maverick. (He voted against No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription-drug entitlement, and he opposed going to war in Iraq because he did not believe the administration had presented compelling evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein.) The Hoosier lawmaker has been an outspoken opponent of President Bush’s immigration reform package, and he calls for 100% transparency on budget earmarks.
Now 44 and seeking a seventh term, Hostettler (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) faces two-term Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth in one of the year’s most closely watched races. At first glance, career lawman Ellsworth is the kind of candidate national Democrats salivate over. He is recognized for his hard-nosed approach to drug dealers and monitoring of sexual offenders. His campaign strategy so far has been to echo Hostettler’s stands on such “red meat” issues as crime, abortion and Iraq and refrain from proposing anything significant on the economy, including Social Security. His slogan, “Washington Stopped Listening,” is studiously uncontroversial, as he apparently counts on the President’s dismal approval rating, high gas prices and Iraq to weigh heavily on the electorate’s mind.
“He’s trying to sound conservative and drag me down as ‘part of the problem,’” says Hostettler, “But there isn’t anything new, inspiring or innovative that my opponent is offering—nothing at all.” The conservative incumbent contrasted Ellsworth’s “Don’t rock the boat approach” with his own record of taking controversial stands—including offering legislation to counter the Supreme Court’s 1947 “separation of Church and state” ruling that has led to the removal of Christmas displays and religious objects from public view.
“And remember—my first vote is for conservative control of the House and a conservative speaker,” warned Hostettler. “His is to make [liberal California Rep.] Nancy Pelosi speaker. That says it all.”
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