Gail Riecken--Struggling to Find a Message

By Bryant Lewis

The battle lines are drawn - it's current Congressman John Hostettler (R) vs. Gail Riecken (D) in Indiana's Eighth U.S. Congressional district race, one of the hottest of the year. ABC News Political Nation has deemed this race one of the 45 to watch this fall. And Campaigns & Elections Magazine has called this race as almost a dead heat, favoring Hostettler by a ratio of 8:7. After four years of representation, we know Hostettler's stands on the issues. But what about Riecken's? What exactly is she running on; what is her message?

The truth is, her message is hard to find. Maybe it's because she has tried so many different ones, finding that many just don't resonate with the Eighth District. At the Great Catfish Debate in Shoals, she attempted to define her candidacy by claiming that Hostettler was out of touch with the district. At one point, when asked to present the Congressman with a question, she exclaimed, "We could talk about minimum wage...but let's talk about the American Heritage Rivers Initiative!"

She was referring to an executive order initiated by President Clinton, and opposed by Hostettler, to highlight a number of the nation's rivers for the publicized goal of environmental cleanup. But, many organizations have declared that the initiative amounts to a "land grab" for the federal government. Apparently, the Eighth District residents feel similarly, as widespread support for the program here has been almost nonexistent. While Riecken had a chance to discuss an issue like minimum wage that voters might truly care about, she deferred, only to discuss an issue voters have dismissed as unimportant. Lately she has been unusually silent on this issue, perhaps because of its irrelevance to voters.

At the same debate in Shoals, Congressman Hostettler questioned Riecken (an Evansville City Councilwoman) on how she would vote on a proposed Gay Rights ordinance. She responded, amazingly, by saying that her lawyers had told her to vote against it, but that there was officially no ordinance before the city council. Once again, she had an opportunity to define her message, but fell woefully short as she attempted to divert attention from an issue that voters might feel strongly about.

At a later debate in Bedford, Riecken once again tried to identify an issue that might take hold in the district. She held up a "Hostettler for Congress" t-shirt that she claimed was made in Mexico. And, in a shameless attempt to appeal to her labor union supporters, she took the time to lambaste the loss of manufacturing jobs to Mexico. But, as the Congressman pointed out, Riecken's support of "Fast-track" trade authority would contradict her supposed opposition to free trade which she expressed at the debate. Due to her contradiction the issue is, once-again, a non-winning one for the Riecken campaign.

Is it really a surprise her candidacy has not found a message? Her official pro-choice and anti-gun stances are very much out of sync with the district. The fact that she takes political action committee money leaves her unable to promote true campaign finance reform. And, since she and her husband were found to have received incredibly favorable tax assessments of their co-owned marina in Evansville, she is unable to effectively promote tax reform.

When voting this fall, take a good look at the candidates. Look at their record, their campaign stances, and their message to voters. And finally, for all of you prospective candidates out there, take the advice of Gail Riecken -- if your message doesn't fit the voters you are trying to attract, simply omit it.

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