It's the homestretch of the campaign season and with it comes a windfall of polling data that often provide the first clear look at how contested races are shaking out. Such is the case in Indiana's 9th district, where incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel is fending off a tough challenge from Democrat Baron Hill, who formerly held the seat.
Results from the first poll in the race show Sodrel to be in jeopardy. The poll of 400 likely voters showed 46 percent supported Hill and 40 percent supported Sodrel. A whopping 14 percent were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 5 points and was sponsored by Indianapolis TV station WISH. Hill's camp is ebullient.
"Voters are hungry for change, and we feel really good about the results," says Abby Curran, Hill's campaign manager. But Sodrel's camp points out that this is nothing new. At the same point in the last election cycle, Sodrel was 25 points down in the polls and came back to win it, albeit by a scant 1,400 votes. "It doesn't mean much to us either way," says Cam Savage, Sodrel's campaign manager. "We think if people make an honest decision about the two candidates based on their records … we'll be fine."
The poll arrives in the middle of a heated argument between the camps. Both Sodrel and Hill pledged to wage "clean" campaigns in a deal brokered by a local ministry group: That means no negative or personal attacks. But when Sodrel released his first television ad a few days later, Hill's campaign cried foul.
The ad describes Hill as a liberal and political insider who went to work for a Washington lobbying firm after being ousted by Sodrel in 2004. Hill indeed worked at a lobbying firm but is not a lobbyist, though he does help Indiana firms succeed in Washingtona fine line of distinction. Among Democrats, Hill had one of the most conservative records during his time in the House. Byron Bangert, a member of the religious group that inked the pledge, says he considers the ad negative. Speaking only for himself, he says, "It constituted to me a personal attack."
Savage says the ad is not negative, but a realistic characterization of the opponent. "There's nothing wrong with running a campaign ad that simply states facts," he says. But Hill has hit back with an ad accusing Sodrel of breaking his pledge, which, in turn, Sodrel's camp calls "very tough" and unfair. With Election Day still two months away, the mudslinging over who is mudslinging is likely far from over.