COUNTDOWN

First Came the '02 Race. Then They Squared Off in '04 and '06. Now It's . . .

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By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sodrel-Hill IV.

The latest pay-per-view boxing match? No, a race for Congress in southern Indiana that pits Baron Hill, the Democrat, against Mike Sodrel, the Republican, for the fourth straight election.

It began in 2002 when Sodrel, a wealthy trucking company owner, sank $1 million of his own cash into a challenge to Hill. The incumbent prevailed narrowly. Two years later, Sodrel was back and, benefiting from strong Republican turnout in the presidential and gubernatorial races, nipped Hill by fewer than 1,500 votes. Hill reemerged as challenger two years later and, after a decidedly nasty campaign, reclaimed his seat by 50 percent to 45 percent.

Luckily for political junkies everywhere, Sodrel announced last week that he is going in for a fourth time around in 2008. "A lot of voters voted for change in 2006," Sodrel said. "I don't think higher taxes, more spending and more programs were what they had in mind."

"We're in uncharted waters," said Brian Howey, an independent analyst of Indiana politics. Howey noted that former Democratic congressmen John Brademas and Phil Sharp as well as current Rep. Mike Pence (R) were elected to Congress on their third try. (The most famous, and oft-cited, example of electoral persistence is Newt Gingrich, who lost congressional races in Georgia in 1974 and 1976 before being elected in 1978.)

But none of those rivals the Hill-Sodrel epic, a battle fueled by their mutual distaste for each other. Howey suggested that voter fatigue with both candidates is a real possibility, adding: "We may see Tivo sales going up."

Fred Yang, Hill's longtime pollster, said the fact that voters know so much about his client and Sodrel will work to the incumbent's advantage.

"The Sodrel camp needs to realize that sequels really only work when a new twist or element is added to the familiar story, and given how 2008 is shaping up, it's hard to envision Sodrel offering anything different that will change the result," Yang said.

Absentee Candidates

The numbers don't lie: The six White House hopefuls in the Senate are slacking off at their day jobs.

The No. 1 Senate vote skipper is Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), but he spent most of the year recovering from a brain hemorrhage. Next come Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has missed 51.5 percent of votes since January; Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), at 36.1 percent; Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), at 30 percent; and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), at 27.8 percent. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) posted a 26.4 percent absentee rate and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) a relatively low 9.9 percent.

Expect those figures to rise. Of the 36 votes Clinton has skipped this year, 25 were called after Labor Day, when the '08 candidates kicked their campaigns into high gear. Obama showed a similar jump, having racked up a third of his 97 missed votes in the past six weeks.

Like most of his competitors, Obama tends to show up for close votes. On Sept. 27, he voted in favor of an expanded federal hate-crimes statute. The measure needed 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster, and it would have failed without him. But the day before, Obama had already left town for New Hampshire when the Senate voted 76 to 22 to rebuke Iran for meddling in Iraq.

PLAYERS

Sara Taylor has landed. After spending two years as the White House political director, Taylor has signed on with Designated Market Media, a leading Republican media consulting firm. Taylor joins former National Republican Congressional Committee political directors Mike McElwain and Sam Dawson, as well as former National Republican Senatorial Committee senior aide Pat McCarthy, as a partner in the firm.

While DMM will handle political advertising -- it had wins in closely contested House races in Ohio, New Mexico and New York last cycle -- the four partners have created another firm, known as the Blue Front Group, to handle corporate and nonpolitical work.

"Change is certainly a fact of life right now in public affairs, from control of Congress to the upcoming change in the administration," McCarthy said. "Adding top-flight talent like Sara Taylor puts us in position to help our clients take advantage of those opportunities."

Two days: A special election in Massachusetts that once looked like a cakewalk for Niki Tsongas has turned into a real race. Tsongas, the wife of the late senator Paul Tsongas (D), won a crowded Democratic primary to replace Rep. Marty Meehan (D) and was expected to cruise in the general election. But retired Lt. Col. Jim Ogonowski (R) has gained momentum, thanks to his personal story (his brother was an airline pilot on one of the flights that hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001) and his outsider message.

27 days: Expect a cavalcade of national reporters to Des Moines for the annual Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. All of the Democratic candidates covet the keynote speaking slot, but the party isn't revealing just yet who will be the star attraction.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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