Last week, former Indiana Congressman Baron Hill announced he would walk across the state in his campaign for U.S. Senate. In a race where he is a severe underdog with an even more severe dollar disadvantage, he’ll need every gimmick he can think of.
It’s a solid ploy, and one that he has tried before. He walked the length of the state back in 1990 when he ran and lost to Dan Coats, the man he now seeks to replace. But where does the gimmick rank in the annals of Indiana campaigning?
We put together a list of our favorite campaign gimmicks. Tell us which one you like — and if we missed any — in the comments.
7. Jim Jontz and his bike
Jontz served three terms as a Democrat representing Indiana’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 to 1993. He tried extra hard to show that he was a hard-worker who could relate to the common Hoosier. His campaign logo was the sole of a shoe, and his preferred method of travel was a rusty old Schwinn.
Jontz pedaled around in parade after parade through the fifth to feel close to the people. It worked for awhile before losing to Steve Buyer in 1992 and the U.S. Senate race to Dick Lugar in 1994.
6. Baron Hill and his walking
What else can you say? While most politicians run for office, Baron Hill walks. It’s never led to much success, but it’s certainly an admirable effort.
5. Greg Walker and his Plymouth Valiant
When Greg Walker challenged State Senator Bob Garton in 2006, Garton was the longest-serving President Pro Tempore in America. He was well-known, well-funded and defeating him would not be an easy task. Walker’s only hope was to convince locals that Garton had been in office too long.
So he went on e-Bay and bought a 1970 Plymouth Valiant for $500. Walker drove the beater around the district to illustrate the year Garton was first elected. He liked to say it was time to trade both Garton and the Valiant in. Walker went on to win in one of the largest upsets in Indiana history.
4. Wayne Seybold and his rollerblades
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Seybold, the long-time mayor of Marion, first made his name as a Winter Olympian. In the 1988 games, he and his sister Natalie placed 10th in the ice dancing competition. Seybold parlayed his athletic success to electoral success. As his term as mayor wound down, Seybold began looking to the future, eventually joining the crowded 5th Congressional District Primary in 2012 to replace Dan Burton.
Seybold campaigned on rollerblades. Although his bid wasn’t successful, he had a big hand in deciding the outcome. He peeled enough votes away from David McIntosh in Grant County to help current U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks win the nomination.
3. Benjamin Harrison and his giant ball
This is one I wouldn’t have known about without the Google machine, but in 1888, Benjamin Harrison rolled a giant ball across the National Road from Maryland to his home here in Indianapolis. It was a 14-foot ball covered with campaign slogans that echoed back to William Henry Harrison’s “Keep the ball rolling” campaign theme.
It doesn’t appear that Harrison actually rolled the ball himself. He was famous for his “front porch campaign”, in which he stood on his front porch and people came to hear him speak. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the best possible way to campaign for president.
2. Mitch and his RV
Mitch Daniels’ campaign is the gold standard in Indiana politics and will be for some time. His tour of the Hoosier State was everything a campaign should be. Several quirks emerged as part of the campaign. Eating tenderloins all over the state and staying in strangers’ houses come to mind. But the most iconic is his RV. Mitch went all over the state in that Elkhart-built beast, and Hoosiers of all ages signed the sides as he went. They parked it in the middle of the State Fairgrounds like an oddity…the same way you would “the World’s Largest Pig”. And he brought it back out to much fanfare during his re-elect bid.
Mitch’s RV is the most iconic campaign gimmick as well as the most successful. In 49 states, it would probably be at the top of the list. But this is Indiana, and basketball is king.
1. Eric Holcomb and his jumper
Almost as soon as his boss, Senator Dan Coats, announced his retirement in 2015, Eric Holcomb was ready to launch his campaign to take his place. Holcomb wasn’t a well-known politician like you’d expect of a U.S. Senate candidate, but he had a long background as a party leader, knew almost everybody in the state, and flat loves to campaign.
And he decided to make the most of his campaign by completing a distinctly Hoosier task: making a jump shot in every high school gym in the state, and probably every park too. As an enormous basketball fan, it’s by far my favorite gimmick ever. While it probably wouldn’t have been enough to get him elected to the Senate, it was enough to get him noticed by Gov. Mike Pence, who named Holcomb Lieutenant Governor upon Sue Ellspermann’s resignation.