By JENNA ESAREY
NEW ALBANY —
Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton drew a large crowd to Indiana’s 9th District Democratic Party 2014 Spring Dinner in New Albany on Saturday.
Billed as “An Evening With Lee,” 275 attended the sold-out event at The Grand in New Albany, which also featured appearances by U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.
“Lee Hamilton is someone we all look up to,” said John Zody, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman.
Former 9th District U.S. Rep. Baron Hill made a surprise visit.
“We need more Lee Hamiltons in Washington,” Hill said.
“I’m here to celebrate Lee Hamilton,” she said. “I’m also supporting the Democratic candidates. Many of them are educators; education is an integral part of our system.”
Hamilton served as the 9th District congressman for 34 years and is currently director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He has published two books on the legislative branch and is considered an expert on foreign policy, national security and Congress.
Although he no longer makes many public appearances, Hamilton came to Saturday’s event at the invitation of Wayne Vance, Chair of the Indiana 9th District Democratic Party. Vance was involved in Hamilton’s first campaign in 1966, and then went on to work for him for 26 years, the last 15 as his chief administrative assistant.
“Events like this show us how good the energy is in the party,” Zody said.
“I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm from around the state,” said Martha Nice, vice-chairwoman of the 9th District Democratic Central Committee. “I think people are energized to make change. Under the Republicans it’s a business climate. Tonight is all about the people and their voices and letting them be heard.”
“The mood of the Hoosier voter is always the fist question on my mind,” Hamilton said. “I think politicians need to listen before they start talking.”
Democratic candidates face challenges this year across the board as midterm elections traditionally are difficult for the sitting president’s party. And the newly redrawn 9th District is seen as favoring Republican candidates.
“It’s a very different district than when I represented it, especially in the north,” Hamilton said. “But it’s doable. I think overall (nationally) the Democrats will pick up a few seats in the House. The Senate is very tight. The Republicans will probably pick up a few seats.”
Vance agreed that winning the 9th District for the Democrats would be a challenge, saying, “It’s pretty difficult when the district is all spread out. I think it will take a lot of work. It all depends on how well we organize and how well we turn out the vote. Those are all ingredients that are tough in a midterm election. It’s not impossible, but it does present challenges.”
Hamilton said that the economy will play a big role in the upcoming elections. “There’s an imbalance in our economy,” he said. “People at the top are doing very well. Wages are stagnant. It needs correcting.”
Guests at the dinner also got a chance to mingle with and hear from a number of U.S. Congressional candidates as well as state legislative candidates.
“Sixteen different Indiana House and Senate seats are at least in part in the 9th District,” Vance said. “That’s a lot to work with.”
Donnelly told the crowd, “The renaissance of the Democratic Party in Indiana stars in the 9th District. We are gonna do well down here.”
Donnelly promised to visit the area frequently and knock on doors with local candidates and volunteers.
“We have some very strong candidates,” Ritz said. “They are embracing the education platform that I ran on. We are able to make great strides, especially in the State House.”
The 9th District, “is very important,” said Zody. “There are some very competitive races in this area. We’re making small gains and we’ll get the job done.”