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Donnelly tries to drum up campus support

Amanda Michaels | Monday, October 2, 2006

With the days until the national election ticking down and races across the country heating up, double Domer Joe Donnelly, the democratic candidate for Congress in Indiana’s Second Congressional District, visited campus Sunday night to speak about his goals for the country and to encourage political activism among students at Notre Dame.

Donnelly, who graduated from the University in 1977 and from the Notre Dame Law School in 1981, is currently engaged in what he called a “razor-close race” with Republican incumbent Chris Chocola, to whom he lost in the 2004 election 55 percent to 45 percent. The race has been singled out for national attention by The New York Times, which used an attack ad employed by Chocola as an example of the trend in negative political campaigning.

Sponsored by the Notre Dame College Democrats (NDCD), the event drew almost 50 interested audience members to LaFortune – the majority of whom were students involved with the NDCD. Helen Adeosun, co-president of the NDCD, introduced Donnelly, emphasizing his Notre Dame connections.

“[Joe Donnelly] is a double Domer, his wife was part of the University’s inaugural female class, his son and daughter are both attending Notre Dame – they’re really an example of an incredible Notre Dame family,” Adeosun said.

Donnelly, who was late in coming from a parade in the southern part of the district, spoke first about his campaign and ideology, then opened up the floor for questions.

His emphasis throughout was change, both the kind he said he plans on effecting if elected to Congress and the kind he encouraged students to envision – pointing to this Indiana district as the starting point for change in the country as a whole.

“This district is the microcosm of America,” Donnelly said. “We want to take our country back, put it back in the hands of working families, in the hands of all Americans […] and this Congressional seat has become, for good or bad, ground zero in this fight. We can literally change America and change the world right here.”

Referring to the negative ad campaigns run by both sides in the race, Donnelly said he thought it was “the disgusting part of politics,” but that he had to engage.

“For five months I’ve been hit over the head by this guy [Chocola], so I had to respond […] because negative commercials work if you don’t defend yourself,” he said.

Donnelly criticized the actions of the Republican-led Congress, blaming them in part for the creation of an almost $9 trillion national debt from a projected $5 trillion surplus in 2000.

“When Democrats gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, you will see much more common sense and solid governing,” he said. “It’s all been controlled by one side, and because of that, things have spun out of control.”

He said his vision is for a more responsible Congress, made up of representatives who “remember why they’re there.” Donnelly used Florida Representative Mark Foley – a former co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children who resigned on Sept. 29 after it was made public that he had sent sexually explicit emails and instant messages to boys under the age of 18 who were serving as Congressional pages – and Chocola, who Donnelly claimed said in 2004 that he wanted to go to Congress to “help President Bush,” as examples of those who failed their constituents.

“You need to know when you look at your Congress that you can have absolute and complete confidence in them,” he said. “They shouldn’t be rubber stamps for the president.”

Donnelly encouraged students in the audience to take the time over the next four weeks to help canvass for his campaign.

“We can win here, but we can’t win without your help, so come put your Notre Dame skills to the test and make things happen,” he said.

The candidate then took several brief questions from the audience regarding his policy toward foreign aid, health care, foreign relations with the Middle East and the genocide in Darfur.

He supported monetary foreign aid, calling it “an important part of what America is,” and saying it would be easy to fund if “all the waste and nonsense” in the budget was eliminated.

And while criticizing the initial move to enter into war in Iraq, he said an immediate military pullout was not an option.

“Now we’re there [in Iraq], and if we leave tomorrow it probably becomes terrorist central, in my opinion,” Donnelly said. “I think we can stabilize the country, but we have to have standards or goals we’re shooting for to get this done, which we don’t seem to have right now.”

In closing, Donnelly again asked for volunteer help, appealing to the audience as Notre Dame students.

“You say you want to be part of the Fighting Irish spirit and team – well, this is bigger than a football game gang, a lot bigger than the game against Stanford next week […] This is your country, guys,” he said. “Make it so that when you finish here, you can say one of the things you accomplished is that you got your country back.”