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July 22, 2013

HOWEY: New districts change Congressional rhetoric

INDIANAPOLIS —

U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski and Marlin Stutzman are conservatives in neighboring Northern Indiana congressional districts. They have an ardent Tea Party base and strong cred with social conservatives.

But their behavior shows a slight variation. If you talk with Walorski for any length of time, the word “bipartisanship” will make its way into the conversation.

 What did she learn from her time as a state legislator that works well in Congress? “The need to work together,” Walorski says, “Bipartisanship.”

Going into her unsuccessful 2010 challenge to then-U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly (who won by fewer than 2,500 votes) and the 2012 campaign, Democrats tried to portray Walorski as a Tea Party partisan firebrand.

Stutzman has taken a stronger public position on abortion-related issues, mining the Dr. Kermit Gosnell story for publicity and writing about his family history with the issue (his young mother nearly had him aborted). Both he and Walorski voted for the recent 20-week abortion ban bill. 

Stutzman has taken a lead role in the farm bill debate, successfully seeking a separate vote on food stamp appropriations and the agriculture subsidies, though there is virtually no chance it will pass the Democratic Senate. There is less public talk from Stutzman on reaching out across the aisle.

The difference is the political veneer rather than substantive policy. In the 2014 Cook Partisan Voting Index, Stutzman sits in a +13 Republican 3rd CD. His biggest threat would be from a primary challenger, which doesn't appear likely to happen this coming cycle.

Walorski sits in the +6 Republican 2nd CD, according to Cook.

Their election experiences in 2012 are instructive. Stutzman handily defeated Democrat Kevin Boyd 187,872 to 92,363. Walorski won a squeaker, 134,033 to 130,113 over Democrat Brendan Mullen, while Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the district with 56 percent. Walorski had a $1.878 million to $1.273 million advantage over Mullen. Stutzman had a $960,000 to $42,000 lead over Boyd.

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