Despite White House Big Guns, Local Issues Decided Congressional Race
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) _ Local politics overwhelmed even heavy White House campaigning in a special congressional election in which Democrats wrested away the seat once held by Vice President Dan Quayle.
Jill Long, a business professor, used two county tax issues in her successful race against GOP opponent Dan Heath, a former city official.
Long’s 1,700-vote margin Tuesday reversed her fortunes from last fall, when she lost the district race by 50,000 votes.
″(Heath) wanted to take the George Bush tax pledge, but he had been in an administration involved in a tax raise,″ said Brad Senden, a consultant to Long’s campaign. ″So he was immediately involved in a contradiction.″
Heath was safety director under Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, who recently engineered the passage of a 0.2 percent city income tax and sought annexation of a Republican-dominated county township, a move that would mean higher property tax rates.
Long used both issues in her advertising, claiming the administration’s tactics belied Heath’s campaign promise not to support tax increases.
In his concession speech, Heath conceded the attacks hurt his candidacy. ″There are times when one must be sacrificed on the altar of good government, whether it be (tax) or annexation,″ he said.
Long said her victory was not a rebuff for the White House or Quayle, who campaigned for Heath. ″This was just a race between two individuals in northeast Indiana,″ she said.
Quayle called Long with congratulations, and ″offered to assist in any way because he’s committed to the Fourth District,″ she said.
Later, Long seemed to back away even from her campaign’s tax issue attacks, saying the city administration’s chief failure was not seeking broader resident involvement in the decision. ″It’s a style of management rather than the issue itself,″ she said.
Long had lost by landslide margins in 1986 and in her 1988 effort to oust GOP incumbent Dan Coats. Some Democrats wrote off her political career after the second loss, but Long said she realized Coats, a former House aide to Quayle, might be appointed to fill his Senate seat. ″We kept our campaign headquarters open and assembled a team of private advisers,″ she said.
Long had no opponents in the party nominating caucus, while Heath, then relatively unknown even in the city, was running in a field of nine candidates.
Long becomes the first Democrat to hold the northeastern Indiana seat since J. Edward Roush lost to Quayle in a 1976 re-election campaign. Long said her thoughts had not turned to the re-election effort that begins soon in a shortened 19-month term.