Call the coroner, because Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) might be on his electoral deathbed.
At least that’s what former Marion County Coroner John McGoff (R) hopes is the prognosis for the 26-year incumbent.
McGoff is challenging Burton in the 5th district GOP primary on May 6, though it’s uncertain whether his campaign has gained enough traction to kill off the incumbent.
In fact, when McGoff announced his campaign a year ago, many local Republicans who know both candidates were surprised by his announcement. Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Charlie White said at the time that he thought McGoff was announcing a bid for mayor of Indianapolis.
“That was a bit of a surprise,” White said. “We all thought he was going to run for mayor of Indianapolis. On the day that he announced it, none of us knew he was going to run against Burton.”
McGoff went on to outraise Burton threefold in the first reporting quarter of 2007. However, Burton picked up the fundraising pace over the course of the year, eventually ending 2007 with a healthy $852,100 in cash on hand, compared with McGoff’s $85,600 war chest.
“His money is diminishing, while Burton’s money is rising,” White said. “It seems like his momentum has gone downhill slowly since he announced.”
If McGoff does win the primary, however, he would be part of the the anti-incumbency wave that already claimed two sitting Members in the Maryland primary. What’s more, nowhere is that wave stronger than in Indiana, where Republicans took control of the Indianapolis City-County Council and mayor’s office, plus turned over a significant number of local mayoral offices in 2007.
McGoff’s most-often repeated gripe with Burton is that he missed votes to attend a celebrity golf tournament in California early last year. Yet as Marion County Republican Party Chairman Tom John put it, most primaries are a reflection of the incumbent instead of the challenger.
“I think John McGoff would be a great Congressman, but you have to convince the people sitting there that the Congressman is not doing a good job,” John said.
John said he could not name anyone living in the district who could beat a longtime Republican like Burton, whom he supports for re-election.
“That’s a difficult endorsement, frankly, because John McGoff is a friend,” John added. “But my suspicion is he won’t garner 40 percent of the vote anywhere at the end of the day.”
John’s kind sentiments toward the challenger is one that is shared by many Republicans in the district who know and respect both men as candidates.
“I like both of them,” Huntington County Republican Party Chairwoman Pam Updike said. “I have no qualms with either one of them.”
Updike says her party is waiting out the primary to support a candidate in her county, which lies in the less-populated northeastern corner of the district. Marion County’s eastern corners and neighboring Hamilton County make up a majority of the district’s voters.
“I think John McGoff was worked very, very hard and has made himself well-known throughout the district,” Updike said. “And I think if someone could beat Dan, it might be John McGoff.”
A Burton aide recently told a local newspaper that he was taking McGoff’s challenge seriously. He even released a television advertisement in January, though the size of the advertising buy was not released and Burton’s campaign office did not respond to a request for comment.
The feel-good advertisement seeks to emphasize Burton’s Hoosier roots and tough childhood — the opposite of the image of a Congressman playing rounds on a sunny golf course in Southern California.
“Do angels get shoe shines?” says an announcer. “Ask Dan Burton, and he’ll say yes. Beaten by an abusive father, Dan Burton was sustained by the love of his mother, grandmother and the grace of God. Living in poverty, Dan Burton carried golf clubs and shined shoes to get by. Then a stranger told Dan to set goals, work hard and never give up. Dan Burton triumphed over tragedy and devotes his life to serving our families. Sometimes, a single shine can last a lifetime.”
McGoff’s campaign manager, Trevor Foughty, said his campaign also plans to get on television and radio before the May primary. He points to McGoff’s fundraising numbers as proof that his campaign is moving in the right direction — specifically outraising Burton on in-state itemized contributions through 2007.
Foughty also points to the 250 to 300 volunteers the campaign has ready to go and says he’s not worried about May.
“It looks like maybe we’ve lost momentum because of when we started,” he said. “There’s still a long time before the campaign.”