From the rolling hills of Brown County to the banks of the Ohio River, the stretch of land that constitutes Indiana’s 9th Congressional District is strikingly serene. You would never know it’s a war zone.
Since 2002 the 9th has been home to the third most competitive congressional race in the country. And it has been the site of ferocious fights between candidates whose fortunes are largely linked to the nation’s political pulse.
November’s election, likely a referendum on President Barack Obama’s agenda, will be more of the same. But with one difference: This year, Republicans, increasingly looking to thoughtful, policy-oriented candidates to revive the party’s fortunes, may have found a rising star.
<;span>Meet Todd Young.
At a quick glance, Young, the Republican suitor for the seat currently held by Democrat Baron Hill, appears to have all the qualities of a promising politician. He is a 38-year-old father of four and a Marine-turned deputy prosecutor with television-ready good looks and natural charisma.
But Young is more about ideas than image. During a recent interview in his spare campaign office near Bloomington’s downtown, he discussed policy and philosophy with a wonkish zeal.
This should come as no surprise since his education includes degrees from the Naval Academy and the Universities of both Chicago and London. Because of this brainy bent, Young seems cut from the same cloth as Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, and other Republicans who are attempting to steer the GOP towards an intellectually grounded innovation agenda.
And like Daniels and Ryan, Young, a Tocqueville aficionado and Margaret Thatcher fan (he once worked for the Iron Lady), is comfortable embracing the party’s libertarian roots.
“I’m a libertarian-conservative,” admits Young. “I believe the state should focus on defending lives, rights, and property instead of depriving its citizens of their God-given liberties.”
Unsurprisingly, his thinking is heavily inspired by Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Freidman. “They understood that government is ill-equipped to plan complex societies. And just as importantly, they realized that markets can be incredible forces to better the condition of mankind.”
Given these beliefs and America’s brewing battle between statism and free enterprise, Young is a timely candidate; his opponent, Hill, a perfect proxy for the policies now emanating out of Washington.
The hallmark of Hill’s career (with the exception of a forced two-year foray into lobbying after the 2004 election, he has been in Congress since 1999) has been a carefully affected patina of moderation. But like most Blue Dogs, his bite is largely toothless. In fact, he has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for Obama’s adventures in government growth, regardless of the consequences to his state and district.
He voted for the $9 billion stimulus bill, passed on a promise to keep unemployment under 8 percent. Like the national average, Indiana’s unemployment now hovers around 10 percent.
He voted for Obama’s health care overhaul even though it will hammer Indiana’s prosperous medical device manufacturing industry with taxes and its expansion of Medicaid will likely necessitate the end of the Healthy Indiana Plan — the state’s popular consumer-driven health care program for low-income Hoosiers.
He voted for the stalled, but not yet abandoned, cap and trade energy tax despite the fact that its costs would disproportionally impact Indiana, which derives most of its electricity from coal.
And he is a vociferous critic of the growing resistance to the Democrats’ agenda. He described opponents of the health care legislation as “political terrorists” and referred to those unhappy with its passage as “tired old people.” And perhaps most infamously, after confiscating a journalism student’s camera at a town hall meeting last year, he angrily informed his constituents that they would “not tell me how to run my office.”
The contrast between the candidates could not be clearer. And Young, who is refreshingly humble and self-effacing, sees his candidacy as part of a much larger contest of ideas.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say this district is a central battleground in a war between two opposed camps,” the candidate asserts. “It’s a battle between the statists — Nancy Pelosi, Baron Hill — who believe the federal government should play a larger role in our lives, and those of us who still believe in self-government.”
If national numbers are any indication, Young is on the right side of this debate: A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found nearly 80 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with the expanding federal government. And a CBS News poll this summer revealed that only 13 percent of the country believes the White House and Congress’s programs have helped the economy.
Should voters send him to Congress, Young’s plans are straightforward: “The next Congress must set our nation on a sustainable fiscal path. It has to stop committing the labor of our children and grandchildren to pay for our current expenses. If we win, I’ll do my part to make that happen.”
But it will not be an easy contest. Hill’s last opponent, former Congressman Mike Sodrel, went down to defeat by 20 percentage points in 2008. And he will have every incentive to pull out the stops this year since victory in November might be the gateway to a run for Indiana’s governorship — an office Hill, ever the career politician, has expressed interest in occupying.
Though Hill held a slight lead over the lesser-known Young in a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in May, the same survey found that 49 percent prefer sending a new representative to Congress while only 37 percent would retain the incumbent.
Second quarter fundraising numbers ($386,000 to $296,000) show Young, on the basis of individual donations, outpacing Hill, whose earnings have chiefly come from political action committees. The Democrat, however, retains a sizable cash on hand advantage.
But the national mood, sluggish economic recovery, and growing unease with the increasing reach of Washington’s tentacles may provide the perfect opportunity for Young.
These factors have imbued his candidacy with a sense of urgency. “We are running out of time to deal with our looming budget crisis, and to reverse course and begin rolling back the size and scope of our federal government,” he worries.
Hill is unperturbed. In fact, he recently revealed that he “sleeps very well” because of his votes in Congress.
But this fall, when voters have heard from his opponent and have their say, his nights might become less restful.