SEYMOUR, INDIANA — Thirty one days out from the election, the place he would attempt to unseat a two-term incumbent congressman, Andy Ruff waited for the voters of Jackson County to come back to Gaiser Park and listen to him out. Nobody confirmed, apart from his ex-wife and a buddy.
Ruff, 58, is a former 20-year Bloomington metropolis councilor and honky-tonk musician on the aspect who’s difficult present Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ninth District. He deliberate on spending the afternoon of Oct. Three within the park enjoying music along with his band, the Dew Daddies, and hanging out with voters in Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District.
The occasion wasn’t marketed effectively sufficient, he mentioned, so that they weren’t anticipating a lot of a turnout. The Fb occasion web page listed it for 3:30 a.m. as a substitute of three:30 p.m., however he went anyway in case anybody confirmed up.
A bunch of males performed a recreation of horseshoes within the background, having fun with a quiet afternoon at an area park. Some youngsters kicked round a soccer ball, at instances close to the marketing campaign’s desk arrange underneath the park shelter home.
Ruff’s race isn’t thought of aggressive. Throughout tens of 1000’s of simulations of the election, as forecasted by statistics web site FiveThirtyEight, Ruff wins 2% of the time.
He mentioned he is aware of some individuals within the district would reject him outright for being a progressive, common well being care-supporting Democrat in a reliably crimson state, however he’s working partially as a result of he’s assured he can join with voters on insurance policies exterior of get together labels, when he can meet them face-to-face.
“Folks will say, ‘Oh, so you are a liberal,’ and I am saying, ‘I am not a label,’” Ruff mentioned. “I’m an individual who’s been right here my entire life and interacted with strange individuals in Southern Indiana my complete life and has shared experiences and shared background and shared views and shared values and shared beliefs. And I consider that all of us wish to transfer ahead.”
Discovering frequent floor out within the district was a way more achievable marketing campaign technique earlier than the pandemic. Initially, Ruff envisioned campaigning at native festivals and festivals and throughout the district, enjoying music and connecting with voters past historically liberal-leaning Bloomington.
However the deliberate “Ruffhouse Tour” was compelled to adapt its technique after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered mass cancellations this spring and summer time and severely thinned the crowds of could-be constituents Ruff was planning to attach with one-on-one.
He’s made appearances the place he can, by way of a slate of his personal occasions and remaining neighborhood occasions akin to farmers markets throughout the district.
The Gaiser Park look was scheduled alongside “No Fest,” a small socially distanced pageant at native Brooklyn Pizza Firm meant to face in for town’s canceled annual Oktoberfest. Ruff performed and spoke there earlier to an honest sized crowd as that day’s opener, however was by chance only promoted by the pageant as an look by the Dew Daddies as a substitute of as a Congressional candidate.
Cubicles, meals vehicles and tables stuffed the lot behind Brooklyn Pizza, together with a desk for the Ruff marketing campaign throughout from a lemon shake-up stand.
Close to the desk, Ruff began speaking to 3 girls, a grandmother, mom and granddaughter from Brownstown, Indiana, and giving them his pitch: He’s from the district, he’ll work for strange Hoosiers as a result of he’s one, take some literature and be taught extra.
The oldest of the three girls, 67-year-old Becky Boas, hadn’t heard of Ruff earlier than however mentioned she was impressed along with his approachability and would most likely vote for him.
“He appears right down to earth, not a politician,” she mentioned. “He’s not working in a swimsuit and tie.”
They took handouts with Ruff’s platform listed on the again along with his slogan: In tune with Indiana.
“I recognize you giving me an opportunity,” he mentioned as they walked away.
Because it grew to become more and more clear the marketing campaign wouldn’t have as many alternatives to satisfy individuals within the now-distanced district, Ruff settled on his subsequent step: he would marketing campaign by way of music.
Written by Ruff and launched in July, “Tennessee Trey” is criticism through nation music. He stuffed the music with particulars about Hollingsworth’s voting file and private historical past, together with supporting a tax minimize invoice that benefited the rich, his feedback on the pandemic from April and getting married on a South Carolina plantation.
Hollingsworth moved to Indiana’s Ninth District from his dwelling state Tennessee shortly earlier than working for workplace, stoking criticism from each side that he was a carpetbagger swooping in to “purchase” the district. Ruff’s music embraces the dig.
“Tennessee Trey, Tennessee Trey, gonna ship you again to Tennessee on Election Day,” Ruff sings within the refrain. “For the volunteer state you could be okay, however we’d like a Hoosier within the Home, not Tennessee Trey.”
The music video options Ruff’s son Hank, a senior at IU, enjoying guitar and singing alongside him. Hank grew up working round within the metropolis council chambers and enjoying music along with his dad, ultimately majoring in political science and interning for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D- Md., and forming his personal band, Hank Ruff and the Hellbenders. He now joins his dad for musical appearances on the marketing campaign path, digital or in any other case.
Ruff was born and raised in Bloomington, and mentioned he gravitated towards nature:
using his bike out to Griffy Lake and fishing within the morning because the solar rose, swimming when it obtained too sizzling to fish, ultimately staggering dwelling sunburned and glad. He graduated from Cornell College in 1987 with an undergraduate diploma in pure assets, eager to work within the outside.
A foul automobile accident saved him from accepting a post-graduation job supply with the U.S. Forest Service, and he was a trainer at North Central Excessive College in Indianapolis for a yr earlier than shifting again to Bloomington and getting concerned with native authorities.
At first, he was a involved citizen strongly against the proposed, and now years underway, growth of Interstate 69, and later — he mentioned on the urging of the native Democratic Get together and former Bloomington mayor and six-term Rep. Frank McCloskey, who represented the eighth District when it included town — he received a seat on Bloomington Metropolis Council in 1998.
Whereas on the council, Ruff was key in creating Bloomington’s living wage ordinance, which requires town, its contractors and beneficiaries of metropolis subsidies to pay workers a calculated, yearly growing residing wage now standing at $13.21.
Ruff now sells himself as “an anti-establishment Hoosier progressive,” an often-repeated tagline, and his platform contains endorsing a Medicare for All type system, legalizing marijuana, addressing local weather change and protecting huge cash out of politics.
Hollingsworth mentioned in a recent interview with WTIU/WFIU that regardless of Ruff’s native background, his insurance policies don’t match the pursuits of voters within the district.
“I feel that what individuals care about is somebody matching their values and targeted on their priorities,” he mentioned. “And I feel if Mr. Ruff traveled exterior of Bloomington’s metropolis limits practically any time, he would acknowledge that the remainder of the district feels very in another way about socialized medication than his proposals.”
Hollingsworth’s marketing campaign is as a substitute emphasizing financial restoration from the pandemic and protecting the nation the land of alternative by avoiding what he referred to as “a extra socialized-focused authorities.”
Ruff mentioned he has to elucidate to some voters he meets that his insurance policies aren’t socialist, however in step with Midwestern values.This realignment is a key technique for Ruff. In any case, isn’t it the Hoosier factor to care about your neighbor?
“They are saying, ‘Effectively, I don’t need socialized medication, however don’t you dare do something to my Medicare,’” he mentioned. “I say, ‘Wait a minute. That’s precisely what we’re speaking about. Do you take into account public colleges to be socialism?’”
Beginning conversations throughout partisan traces might be troublesome, Ruff mentioned. It’s why he’s made music such a central a part of the marketing campaign: it’s a method to crack open the door.
If somebody watches “Tennessee Trey” and likes the identical nation music Ruff has liked his entire life, ever since he would take heed to Johnny Money and Roger Miller on the eight-track participant in his dad’s inexperienced Mercury Montego as a baby, he mentioned perhaps they’ll see he’s not a monster — only a Democrat.
Ruff isn’t the primary progressive to attempt to unseat Hollingsworth. Folks remind him concerning the 2018 midterm elections on a regular basis, when Hollingsworth defeated Democratic labor lawyer Liz Watson.
Watson, who was born and raised in Bloomington, generated nationwide pleasure as a younger, progressive girl attempting to flip a crimson district as hype constructed for Democrats forward of an anticipated “Blue Wave.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, even campaigned for Watson in IU’s Dunn Meadow.
The Blue Wave gave Democrats a large benefit within the Home of Representatives, however did not contact Indiana’s Ninth District. Hollingsworth saved his seat, profitable 56.5% of the vote.
Somewhat over a yr later, and 7 months after he misplaced his metropolis council seat to IU graduate pupil Matt Flaherty, Ruff introduced his marketing campaign in late 2019 after checking that Watson and her 2018 major opponent Dan Canon weren’t difficult Hollingsworth once more.
“We felt like standing idly by and watching that chance go can be extra painful than working,” Ruff’s spouse Susan Bollman mentioned.
Whereas in workplace, Hollingsworth has mostly voted across get together traces, together with voting against impeaching President Donald Trump, increasing the Reasonably priced Care Act and lengthening housing help through the pandemic. His web site says he believes in shrinking authorities, Christian household values and America.
He made national news in April after telling Indiana radio station WBIC that whereas he appreciated the enter of scientists, prioritizing reopening to get People again to work was “the lesser of those two evils.”
“It’s policymakers’ resolution to placed on our huge boy and large lady pants and say it’s the lesser of those two evils,” Hollingsworth mentioned. “It isn’t zero evil, however it’s the lesser of those two evils and we intend to maneuver ahead that course.”
Ruff mentioned the feedback and the political local weather of the pandemic itself make Hollingsworth a special candidate than he was two years in the past.
And, Ruff mentioned, is not he along with his flannel shirts and nation music a special form of candidate than Watson, a Georgetown-educated lawyer and coverage adviser with D.C. bonafides? Would not which have a special enchantment in some components of the district?
“All of it provides up, to me, to be a really totally different election cycle than 2018,” he mentioned.
Most mornings, Ruff says, he tries to be at his laptop inside 30 seconds of waking up, chipping away on the mountain of duties a Congressional marketing campaign entails.
At some point, a little bit over two weeks out from the election, revolved round a two-hour drive to New Albany, Indiana, and again for a radio interview to succeed in voters within the southernmost a part of the district. Later, Ruff and Bollman would head as much as Avon, Indiana, not for the marketing campaign, however to take their flip spending the evening with Bollman’s father, who has superior Parkinson’s and desires nightly in-home help.
Ruff’s schedule is basically guided by a listing he handwrites each evening of duties for the following day: calls to potential donors every time potential, thanks notes to staffers, all of the politicking he can match round his life and day job as an educational adviser for college kids learning human biology at IU.
Earlier than he hit the highway that morning a little bit after 10:30 a.m., he already slot in advising periods with 5 college students. One other evening, he had an 11 p.m. name with a pupil.
That night, heading as much as Avon, Bollman drove so Ruff may slot in some additional donor calls. Bollman mentioned her chief function within the marketing campaign is driving her husband across the district, speaking technique and course as they roll alongside.
As an educational adviser working in opposition to a rich incumbent, Ruff is working with a fraction of Hollingsworth’s assets. Hollingsworth’s marketing campaign has obtained greater than $1 million since Jan. 1 in comparison with Ruff’s $122,843.10, which incorporates $1,000.40 in candidate contributions.
The shortage of funding means cash goes the place it’s most wanted. Ruff had a full-time marketing campaign supervisor at first, however mentioned he determined after the primaries that the cash could possibly be higher used elsewhere. The marketing campaign now runs on a committee construction, with committee heads every paid a smaller quantity for captaining a particular side of the race.
There isn’t cash for full-time hires, communications director Jake Rossman wrote in an electronic mail. The marketing campaign has seven or eight individuals persistently on-call who’ve been paid a few times they check with as employees and greater than 100 volunteers, together with IU college students.
If Ruff is not cautious, he can miss a schedule merchandise totally. One evening, he was visiting his aged dad and mom’ home in Bloomington after an occasion, a uncommon second to loosen up and simply speak to mother and pop, when he glanced down at his telephone.
“Andy, you’re purported to be on a Zoom fundraiser name proper now,” learn a message from a employees member. He unsuccessfully tried to hitch on his telephone earlier than racing dwelling to hitch late and apologize profusely.
The marketing campaign determined to not spend cash on polling, both. Dangerous outcomes would simply dishearten the marketing campaign crew, Ruff mentioned, and good outcomes wouldn’t change something.
“Say that it mentioned I had an opportunity,” he mentioned. “Are we going to work any more durable? No. We are able to’t work any more durable. We’re doing every little thing we are able to.”
Nestled between Tunnelton Highway and U.S. Route 50, the six arches of Bedford, Indiana’s Otis Park bandshell was hand-cut from a whole bunch of tons of native limestone and constructed within the 1930s, as a part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, to focus on no matter takes place on the heart of the stage.
The day earlier than, it had been a marriage. On Oct. 18, 16 days out from the election, it was Andy Ruff for Congress.
With yard indicators flanking the stage and a banner of Ruff holding a bass he caught secured throughout the entrance with bungee cords, they waited for Lawrence County to indicate up. Some did, lower than 25 in all, trickling in to sit down on yard chairs and blankets within the asphalt lot in entrance of the stage, nevertheless it was sufficient. Kim Gray, Ruff’s ex-wife and Hank’s mother, stood just a few toes from the bandshell, recording the present on an iPhone at his request.
Clarice Man, occasion attendee and Lawrence County Democratic Get together Chair, mentioned she’s seen Ruff join with voters throughout get together traces firsthand, however she’s anticipating the county to go to Hollingsworth.
“We might not see a giant crowd, however we will give all of it we obtained,” Ruff mentioned on the opening of the present, having modified from an informal outfit into his specifically embroidered Western shirt, a part of a group he shares with Hank, able to honky-tonk.
Accompanied by Hank on vocals and the electrical guitar, the band performed a mixture of covers akin to John Prine’s “Paradise,” and unique songs, together with tracks from the Dew Daddies’ albums and “Tennessee Trey.”
The Bedford live performance wasn’t purported to occur in any respect. It was initially canceled after a prediction of rain and low temperatures.However because the skies cleared, Ruff determined the live performance ought to go on in spite of everything. Regardless of a worry of low turnout from a reversed cancellation, he figured they need to undergo with it: that they had the bandshell reserved and it was the ultimate cease of the Ruffhouse Tour, the marketing campaign’s final in-person occasion earlier than the election.
“We’ll do the very best we are able to,” Ruff mentioned earlier than the present, whereas unloading audio gear himself.
Daily brings one other to-do checklist, extra to chip away at because the election grows nearer and nearer.
The Ruff marketing campaign’s precedence now could be attempting to get as a lot materials out as potential: paying for the “Tennessee Trey” music video to be a promoted publish, sending one final focused mailing to independents and Republicans they could be capable to sway.
Ruff is life like about his possibilities. He mentioned his confidence has been shaken by seeing polls inserting Trump nonetheless comfortably forward in Indiana because the election approaches, and he can’t anticipate many citizens to not vote straight ticket. However there’s all the time an opportunity.
“Perhaps it received’t be that approach,” he mentioned. “Perhaps the polls are unsuitable. It could possibly be that there’ll be a surge, and folks come out and whereas they’re out voting to get the nation again on the rails, by getting Trump out of workplace, they’ll vote for me, too.”
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