An interview with Eric Dickerson and the Dem's Mike Edmondson

Dateline: Tue 29 Aug 2006

Maybe Michael Edmondson, executive director of the Indiana Democrats, was pulling my leg. Or maybe he was genuinely sincere and so confident of victory that he honestly couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"The 7th District? You mean the 2nd?" he asked, when informed that the race between his lady, Rep. Julia Carson, and R challenger Eric Dickerson has made the 2006 "Races to Watch" list by the New York Times.

(See the story: http://www.nytimes.com/ref/washington/raceprofile_INDIANA7.html

"I can't imagine anybody would be watching it," he offered. "It would be an absolute shock to me to learn this was on the GOP pick-up list.

"Actually, I certainly hope it is," he added. "If that is where they want to spend their money, I think that is absolutely fantastic."

His view? "Julia Carson clearly represents the people of the 7th District very, very well. Eric has proven he is not going to be a competitive candidate. He is not getting along with the party, he is not raising any money and he is not really getting out there and campaigning from what I have seen."

It is true, Dickerson said Tuesday, that he has not received "one dollar bill" from the Republican party, although he is getting "all the pleasantries --- whatever we can do to help," and has picked up excitement from "the troops" -- the committee and precinct people.

But maybe money does not matter as much -- at this stage of the campaign -- when a candidate is ebullient by nature. Dickerson is, and he is clearly having a ball. His strategy, so far, has been to hit the Wal-Mart and Meijer circuit in the district. He parks his big, recognizable RV in the lot and spends a couple hours meeting as many as 200 people at a time.

He's also making the rounds of the "traditional gatherings" -- festivals, fish fries, township meetings.

His impression? "I was at the Festival of the Lanterns on the Eastside this weekend. People said to me in advance, 'Why do you wanna go there?'

"If you look at the voting record (of the area)," he explained, "you had 400 Democrat votes and less than a dozen Republican. But I think people are tired of the same old rhetoric...talk becomes old at some point. The question is, who can get something done? What I heard was, 'Hey, Eric, I am splitting my ticket.' It would make anybody smile."

Dickerson believes he has an edge over past GOP challengers to the formidable Rep. Carson on several counts. He has name recognition. He has participated over the years in various youth activities and has supported inventive programs for underachieving students. He's got one of those positive vibes. In the past, even his commercials for automobiles were message-oriented, upbeat and thoughtful.

He also has shown he can put out fires. The hoopla about outstanding loans regarding his GM dealership died down, after he moved quickly to pay the debts and defended his track record as a successful businessman. (He has sold the dealership, noting, "Our business achievements have been tremendous, but sadly GM is hurting.")

Not one to go negative, he has spoken of his "utmost respect" for Julia Carson. The closest he's come to criticizing her is to say that there are plenty of federal dollars Indiana could draw down to help pay for public safety, various grants and such. He doesn't see that happening in the 7th.

When he started his campaign, he said, voters identified three issues: abortion, immigration and jobs, in that order. Now, he said, it is public safety, public safety, public safety.

Among his proactive ideas: put the focus on addiction services. "We are ignoring the cause. We need to get a handle on this drug thing." He would especially like to see old Winona Hospital on Meridian Street be transformed into a state-of-the-art drug treatment facility -- an idea rejected by the neighborhood but one Dickerson has not given up on.

For him, the connection between drugs and crime goes back to the city's high-profile murder in the spring on the Eastside, when seven members of a Hispanic family were shot. The crime, he said, was drug-related. "The word was out that that family had $40,000 in cash in their home. It wasn't true, but that that is what people heard. They (the suspects) got mad when they couldn't find it (money) and they did the unthinkable."

The New York Times included the demographics of the 7th District -- it is urban, 63 percent white, 29 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic. Median income is $36,522.

Historically, the district has said to have been a hot spot for voter fraud. The very suggestion makes Mike Edmondson bristle. "If Greg Garrison (host of the morning talk show on WIBC-AM radio and one of the more vocal critics on this score) is really convinced, why isn't anybody prosecuting this? The Democrat Party is 100 percent in favor of prosecuting any voter fraud, no matter who is being voted for."

This will be the first November election in which Indiana will try out its new voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation.

The Dems -- who see it as a GOP plot to suppress votes -- are ready for it, said Edmondson. "We are doing a very aggressive absentee program and hope to head some of the (voter ID problems) off."

Edmondson didn't want to talk about strategy -- that's a secret. "The voter ID law is designed to suppress minority and elderly votes. But anybody over the age of 65 is allowed to vote absentee, and there is no voter ID required for voting absentee."

Dickerson, obviously, is glad Indiana has voter ID.

But what he will really be glad for, he said, is October. That is when national polls will be taken, and Indiana will wake up and realize that the NYT is right: the 7th District is a race to watch.

"Sleepy Indianapolis is going to have a race that will draw national attention," he said. "We are gonna be neck and neck."

Comments? ruth@ruthholladay.com

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