Being the Congressman from Indiana's 9th District is a little like playing political Twister. You've got to keep your left foot firmly planted to the northwest, in your largest city, Bloomington, with its young, Democratic-leaning population around Indiana University. At the same time, you've got to reach southeast with your right hand, to Clark County and its Republican-trending Louisville suburbs along the Ohio River. Then there are the descendants of the proslavery Butternuts in the rural counties to the southwest of the district, where you keep your cultural right foot for balance. And if that's not challenging enough, with your left hand, you see if you can reach out to blue collar workers in the northeast towns bordering Ohio.
For 34 years the consummate political diplomat Lee Hamilton managed the feat, and since his retirement, Baron Hill, the Democratic incumbent, has performed the 9th District gyration. He's succeeded at it for five terms, with one break from 2004 to 2006 when he lost to his perennial challenger, Republican Mike Sodrel. This year Hill has a new, young challenger in Todd Young, a Bloomington lawyer with the backing of the antitax Club for Growth, and the race is one of the tightest in the country. (See coverage of Florida's 24th Congressional District race between Suzanne Kosmas and Sandy Adams.)
It is a test of survival not just for Hill but for endangered Blue Dog Democrats nationwide. The culturally conservative centrist coalition, long key to Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, faces a threat to its ranks unlike any other group, with 22 of its 54 House members in toss-up races, and others headed for likely losses.