Getting back to talking to talking about elections in the U.S., last week Indiana had its first competitive Republican primary for statewide office in many, many years and yet if one goes through news articles about the candidates’ debates, one finds almost total agreement on the issues discussed. There were exceptions of course. John Hostettler stated his views on Iraq and got some shots in on the eventual winner of the primary, former U.S. Senator Dan Coats, for past votes on gun control and to nominate Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. But such attacks were not strong enough to shake the impression that the candidates had no real differences of opinion. In that context, it’s no wonder regular line Republican voters (instead of more ideological voters) chose an old hand like Coats, someone they knew rather than take a chance on other candidates less well known because there was no stark argument given to the voters to choose one candidate over another (other than a last minute smear by the campaign of neocon wannabe State Senator Marlin Stutzman against Hostettler for supposed lack of support of Israel.)
This may be a reach but I have a suspicion that a lot of Republican debates are like the ones held in Indiana where differences of issues are well overshadowed by questions of experience, of personality, of how “conservative they really are” or how much they love Ronald Reagan. The 2008 GOP Presidential debates would have degenerated into such vapid conversations if it wasn’t for the presence of Ron Paul actually dissenting from the party line on foreign policy and offering an actual difference opinion on a key issue that voters could decide for themselves whether they supported or not.
Even if a similar debate between Hostettler and his opponents could have been held on foreign policy it’s unclear if this would have benefited him. Many regular Republicans thought Hostettler tanked his 2006 campaign and even though he was able to put forth a great grassroots campaign and carry his old Congressional district only spending less than $60,000, lack of more funds clearly hampered his ability to make himself more widely known across the state. Stutzman was able to finish second because he was able to spend the money (some $200,000) Sen. Jim DeMint’s endorsement brought him for TV ads. But what this did was split the anti-establishment vote and allowed Coats to win (which was a better outcome from a foreign policy point of view than a victory for Stutzman) despite the fact 61 percent of Indiana Republicans did not want him as their nominee (there’s no runoff law in the Hoosier State).
This writer pointed out the clear lines of division between the major candidates in the Indiana GOP primary. Across the border in nearby Kentucky (which holds their primary in a week), Rand Paul is ahead by double digits in the latest public polls because unlike Indiana, no Conservative Inc. candidate has emerged to challenge him or they haven’t given their support to establishment tool Trey Grayson. Unlike his father, who threw out what he believed in and you either liked it or you didn’t, Rand has run a more careful campaign, particularly on the issue of foreign policy. This has him in position to win a statewide election(whereas Ron Paul only won seven percent in the Kentucky GOP presidential primary in 2008) and has broader coalition to work from with endorsements from DeMint, Sarah Palin, Jim Bunning and James Dobson. Utah Senator Bob Bennett was dethroned at his state’s GOP convention this past weekend because a similar coalition joined together on the convention floor and had more than enough numbers to end Bennett’s career.
However, Hostettler’s vote and the work the Paulities have put into either taking over or influencing state and local GOPs across the country, shows this faction is a heck of a lot more than seven percent. To see who is going to prevail in the Republican Party of the future, the Pauls or the Rubios, the Stuztmans or Hostettlers, the debate on foreign policy need to be hashed out, not submerged in personality politics or love for Ronald Reagan. The GOP establishment will takes its cues from the winner as its candidates go down (Bennett) or retire (Schwarzenegger) or leave altogether (Charlie Crist).
Where can this debate take place? Well why not in the 8th 7th Congressional District in northern Wisconsin where veteran Rep. and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey has announced his retirement. Pretty boy and Karl Rove Republican Sean Duffy is the buzz candidate of the Beltway Right, but there’s another candidate in the field b y the name of Dan Mielke. He’s a local farmer from a small town, not a celebrity. He ran against Obey in 2008 and had the biggest vote against him than any Republican since Obey was elected in 1969. He’s been endorsed by the state’s Constitution Party as well. Maybe it should be in this campaign that foreign policy be debated and hashed out between the two candidates so that GOP voters in the district and across the country have clear choice as to which directions they want the party to go in.