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The Farmer Hass Effect: Will Tuesday's Underdogs Dog Political Giants?

OuthouseThe South Bend Tribune's Jack Colwell, one of our favorite political columnists, writes today about the Farmer Hass effect and how it could affect the lesser-known challengers and their Goliath opponents in Tuesday's primary election:

"Look back no farther than the primary election in the 2nd District in May of '02 to find an example of a candidate who was little known, had scant financing and yet got to that 20 percent level of the vote to cause a stir and some embarrassment.

"The candidate? Lewis F. 'Farmer' Hass, who designated an outhouse on his farm as his campaign headquarters. He spent less than $300 on his campaign. He didn't really have a campaign, other than mailing out to newspapers some packets of information, including photos of rather unusual signs he posted along the road by his Valparaiso area farm and on his outhouse.

"He did spend $90 to run his photo for six days in the Kokomo Tribune.

"Farmer Hass was running for the Republican nomination against Chocola, then seeking his first term. Chocola had raised $260,000 in one night when Vice President Dick Cheney came for a fundraiser.

"Results? While Chocola of course won the nomination, Farmer Hass carried two counties. He came close in a third county. He got 20 percent of the vote in the district.

"Most of the Hass vote success came in the southern portions of the district, then newly drawn, where South Bend television stations didn't penetrate to give Chocola the name recognition he had in the northern counties. Hass did well in some heavily-Republican rural precincts where voters probably were attracted to the 'Farmer' in his ballot listing.

"Embarrassing? Sure. Chocola never expected to lose a county to the outhouse candidate. But it was a wake-up call, letting him know that there was work to do in getting better known in the southern part of the district. Chocola had the resources in the fall to buy TV spots on Lafayette and Indianapolis stations. He spent time and other resources in the troublesome counties as well and won them in the fall as he defeated Democrat Jill Long Thompson."


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While I believe that Tony Zirkle may garner a greater percentage of votes than most pundits will admit (due to incumbent fatigue, protest votes against Chocola, etc...) I do not believe that Joe Donnelly will succumb to the "Farmer" effect. Joe has campaigned as if he were twenty points down since early January. There is not an area of the district that he has not appeared in, not one vote taken for granted. While his opponent may claim that any votes he gets are due to his platform or because people want a "progressive" candidate, he has not put in the time south of US 6 that Joe has and will lose because of that. I do not believe in setting vote or percentage "benchmarks" that Joe must hit because turnout is historically low in primary races. The local media has played up the Democratic primary because it fulfills their need for drama and conflict; I would not be surprised if they claim that the sky is falling on Joe Donnelly if he does not hit whatever mark they feel he should hit, but Joe knows the real target is Chocola and he has bided his time and resources accordingly. Chocola would have liked nothing more that for Joe to drop $10,000 on his primary race; sorry, Chris, Joe is saving it for you.

I'll be honest, I'm a bit confused. You see, Hess is in Dist 1, is registered as a candidate in Dist 1 according to the SoS list, but is advertising in Dist 2?
Regardless where Hess is running, he will not be any form of a threat this year. The man is an absolut hoot and I love going past his farm to read his signs (fear the fiber optic entrapment). But in the last couple of years, there has a been growth in both Dist 1 and 2 that is reducing the ruralness that is Hess' base. I'd give him something in a realm of 5-10% this year 'cause he has recognition from those on the NW corner of Dist 2 and NE corner of Dist 1, especially those around route 6 and 49. In Dist 1, Lake County won't vote for him because it is very Chicago-aligned and essentially urban with close ties to the politics of Chicago. Portage, Chesterton, most of Valpo are now aligning themselves with Chicago also. In Dist 2, the farm belt between Plymouth and Kokomo would yield some votes though.


Mr. Colwell was referring to the primary election in May 2002, when Hass garnered a larger percentage of the vote than expected in the Second District.

Hass apparently lives in the First District, where he's running and not expected to have much pull this year.

Serves me right for just skimming.

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