Hostettler running on empty ' but he always does

Over six terms in the House, Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) has become known for winning reelection with scant resources. He is vulnerable this year but is running his campaign without a press secretary or a manager.  

“Mr. Hostettler has always done the unorthodox, and he always manages to win convincingly,” said Carl Forti, National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesman. ”It’s the results that count, not how you get there.”

Matthew Faraci, Hostettler’s spokesman in his congressional office, said he could not comment on campaign matters and referred questions to the campaign. Hostettler, acting as his own press secretary, did not return several calls for comment.

Steven Billet, director of the George Washington University graduate school’s PAC-management program, said it is foolish for Hostettler to neglect spending money on district resources. Billet indicated that the choice to run the campaign without key staff there was highly unusual.

“It’s silly. He’s running behind in a securely Republican district,” Billet said.

Billet, a Democrat, said that if Hostettler does not spend money in his district this year he could “wake up on the Wednesday morning after the campaign and find himself in the private sector.”

Since Hostettler’s opponent, Brad Ellsworth (D), is a sheriff, he would most likely lean to the right on law-enforcement issues, potentially splitting the Republican base, Billet added.

“He’s got a big problem,” Billet said. “Somebody at the [NRCC] should sit down and have a ‘come to Jesus’ talk with him or something.”

The Cook Political Report newsletter lists Hostettler’s 8th District seat with five other incumbents’ districts nationally as “toss-ups” this election season.

Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Hostettler’s lack of staff wouldn’t matter in terms of raising his opponent’s chances in November, as Ellsworth is running a strong campaign.

“He is the strongest candidate we have ever seen in this district,” Feinberg said.

Jay Howser, Ellsworth’s spokesman and campaign manager, agreed that the way that Hostettler is running his campaign will not matter when the votes are counted.

“I think the real advantage is the voters,” Howser said. “How he wants to run his campaign is his decision.”

Fundraising is another chronic challenge for Hostettler, who rarely raises money as vigorously as his challengers.

He has outraised his opponents twice, once in 1996 and again in 2002. This election cycle he had $55,844 on hand as of April 12, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which maintains a database of campaign-finance information, while Ellsworth reported $533,465.

Last election cycle, Democrat John Paul Jennings raised $1.5 million, compared to Hostettler’s $480,210, but garnered only 45 percent of the vote compared to the incumbent’s 53 percent.

Howser also indicated that Hostettler has more money than meets the eye.

“It is a big fib that he doesn’t raise any money and then wins in the end,” Howser said. “The NRCC bails him out every election cycle.” The NRCC spent $700,000 on campaign attack ads last year that helped defeat Jennings, he said.

Forti said: “It’s clear that Mr. Ellsworth knows what’s coming. Welcome to the big leagues.”

Ellsworth officially begins his general-election campaign today; he ran largely unchallenged in yesterday’s primary.

In his statement to supporters, Ellsworth said his campaign signifies the need for a change in Washington.

“Congress just refuses to listen to folks like us,” he said. “They refuse to work with each other to solve our problems. … All of this is about to change.”

Hostettler’s frugal history
Election cycle   Money raised    Challenger                                       Challenger  raised
1993-1994        $324,156           Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.)     $578,434
1995-1996        $542,610           Jonathan Weinzapfel                      $472,265
1997-1998        $673,076           Gail Riecken                                   $814,360
1999-2000        $730,355           Paul Perry                                      $1.6 million
2001-2002        $564,189           Bryan Hartke                                 $397,485
2002-2004        $480,210           Jon Paul Jennings                           $1.5 million
2005-2006*       $55,844            Brad Ellsworth                               $533,465

*As of April 12

Source: PoliticalMoneyLine