By BRIAN HOWEY
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.
While Walorski said she wasn't surprised by her 4,000-vote victory, many observers, including this one, didn't expect a close race. The newly drawn district had prompted Donnelly to jump into the U.S. Senate race.
When it comes to 2014, most see Stutzman easily winning a third term. And Walorski? Mullen has taken a pass on a rematch.
This nuanced difference between the two was revealed by last month's vote on the farm bill.
Walorski joined most of Indiana's Republican Congressional delegation in voting for the original farm bill.
Stutzman joined Democrat Reps. Pete Visclosky and Andre Carson in voting against the measure that was defeated 234-195, with Stutzman joining 62 Republicans in voting no because he wanted to separate the farm subsidies from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or food stamps).
They did so for very different reasons.
Carson called the bill “an affront to the character of this nation,” adding, “This bill failed today because it would irresponsibly cut $20 billion from the SNAP program, shutting down food aid for nearly 2 million Americans and removing over 210,000 children from free school lunch and breakfast.”
Stutzman reasoned, “Hoosiers sent me here to change the way Washington works and I'm pleased that my colleagues have joined me in rejecting the old path of business as usual.”
The entire Republican delegation backed the second effort to split the farm bill.
Stutzman explained, “As a fourth-generation farmer, I know firsthand how important the Farm Bill is for farmers, but I also know that farm policy and food stamp policy are different.”
Stutzman explained, “This is not about taking food away from children or people who are in need. This is about a delivery system. And the delivery system that we have in the food stamp program is an expensive one. We're seeing abuse from top to bottom.”
It’s worth noting that since 1997, Stutzman's Howe, Ind., farm has received just under $180,000 in federal farm subsidies.
In the original farm bill, Republicans wanted to cut SNAP funding by $20 billion over the next decade, citing enrollment of 47 million as too high, with many coming on to the rolls via other programs.
It comes as recent studies show 80,000 kids in Central Indiana face hunger. In 2011, a Map the Meal Gap study showed that 25 percent of kids in Vigo County faced hunger, along with 28 percent in Fayette County.
So this battle over food stamps comes with a persistent 8 percent jobless rate in Indiana since 2008.
It also comes as Indiana congressional maps drawn in 2011 have created much more conservative and whiter districts. Most of the Hoosier minorities have been pushed into Rep. Visclosky's 1st CD (71.6 percent white, 20 percent black, 13.8 percent Hispanic) and Andre Carson's 7th (60.2 percent white, 28.8 percent black, 9.9 percent Hispanic).
The rest of the districts are all at least 85 percent white, topped out by the 6th CD which is 94 percent white, followed by the 9th at 92.4 percent and the 8th at 92.5 percent.
And district makeup and competitiveness changes behavior.
— Brian Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.