They sent a Democrat to Congress. Then a Republican. Then a Democrat. Then a Republican again. All in very quick succcession.
Among 435 congressional districts, this is the only one that has flipped three times since 2000. That makes it the epicenter of a national indecision that has helped wipe out Washington’s centrists and filled the Capitol with fractious partisans and frustrating gridlock.
Now, they’re already talking about another election.
But people here have wave fatigue. How many times can you be persuaded to throw the bums out before you decide that they’re all bums, every one?
“We’ve been trying to find somebody to do things differently. And we can’t find him,” said Donna Klippert, 65, a retired “lady truck driver” who has tried both Democrats and Republicans in past elections.
On one recent day, she and her dog, Puppy, were standing at the corner of Chestnut and Tipton streets in downtown Seymour, Ind., with a cardboard sign that said “Occupy Seymour.” Klippert said she was fed up with Republicans favoring the rich and powerful.
So, this time, she’s going to support the Democrats instead?
“No,” Klippert said.
The 9th District stretches across the bottom of Indiana, out over cornfields and courthouse towns. The basketball movie “Hoosiers” was based on one of them, tiny Milan, Ind. John Mellencamp, a native son, wrote “Small Town” about Seymour. Now, many of the area’s Norman Rockwell squares have hollow storefronts, full of lonesome junk.
From 1964 to 1996, there were 17 House elections in this district. Lee Hamilton, a centrist Democrat, won every one.
Then Hamilton retired. And things got wavy.
In 2004, as President George W. Bush won reelection, a Republican unseated Hamilton’s successor, Rep. Baron P. Hill (D). Then, in 2006, Hill took the seat back, as Democrats used a backlash against Bush to retake Congress.
Then, during the tea party wave last fall, the 9th District kicked out Hill once again. Voters replaced him with a square-jawed ex-Marine, Rep. Todd C. Young (R).
So what accounts for this region’s indecision? First, the district is so closely divided that a small change in turnout is enough to flip the balance.
“I got booted out after 20 years. The Democrats didn’t go out and vote,” said Paul D. Hardin, a Democrat and local official from Gnaw Bone. When Hill lost, Hardin lost, by 50 votes. “ ‘It’s time for change,’ they say. But what are they changing to?”
Also, residents said the incumbents were tossed out as a kind of running protest against a political system that didn’t seem to notice them outside of Election Day.
“There was no strong thing to put [Young] in. Just change,” said Darvin Apple, 64, a Republican eating bacon and eggs a few miles away in Paoli, Ind. His county has Indiana’s fifth-lowest rate of high school graduation and its fourth-lowest median household income, and he said locals wanted somebody who could change that. “Right now, I don’t think we’re going to make anything better, no matter what we do.”