Rematch of disputed election in Indiana. McCloskey, '84 victor by four votes, faces GOP's McIntyre

Four votes made the difference last time. Now, in a rematch of one of the most disputed elections in the history of the United States House, two Indiana candidates are running nearly even again.

``It's a tossup,'' says Bob Zaltsberg, editor of the Bloomington Herald Telephone. ``I don't think it will be four votes, but it's going to be close.'' ``It's very close,'' adds the Democratic candidate, US Rep. Frank McCloskey, who barely beat out Republican Richard McIntyre in 1984.

The race has sparked keen interest at the national level. High-profile Republicans and Democrats are traipsing through Indiana's Eighth Congressional District trying to bolster the respective campaigns. But at the local level, the race has drawn yawns so far.

On this particular muggy Sunday afternoon, Mr. McIntyre charges through a Paoli, Ind., parade, shaking hands at breakneck speed. After six blocks he has worked up a big sweat, but the local high school band gets the applause. ``Get that air out here,'' he tells a volunteer as he sinks into the front seat of an air-conditioned campaign car.

Representative McCloskey skips the campaign trail entirely this day, preparing instead for the candidates' televised debate that evening.

The Eighth District, which connects a rural swath from Bloomington to Evansville, contains a baffling mix of southern Democrats, union households, and rural Republicans. Populism runs high here. ``It's the kind of district that has been back and forth for the past 10 years,'' says John Livengood, Democratic state chairman.

Each candidate is angling for the political middle ground but from opposite banks. McIntyre, an affable and telegenic attorney from Bedford, supports a New Right agenda: strong defense, anti-abortion measures, and tax cuts. McCloskey stresses trade legislation and economic development. When he asks McIntyre in the debate to name one weapons system he opposes, there is no answer.

McIntyre, on the other hand, recalls a Vietnam-era peace rally that McCloskey called as mayor of Bloomington, as well as a statement about decriminalizing marijuana from about the same era.

``I don't recall saying that, but I very well could have,'' McCloskey says later of the quote about drugs. But ``legalization of marijuana was nothing I advocated as mayor of Bloomington.''

The audience for the debate is filled with supporters from each camp, who cheer every time their candidate finishes speaking. The controversy over the '84 race is unmentioned, but its bitterness remains. In the past week, each side has criticized the other's campaign as low and sleazy.

Originally a McCloskey 72-vote victory, the '84 contest became controversial when recounts showed McIntyre had won by 34- and 418-vote margins. Those results were thrown out when a Democratically controlled House committee counted some but not all absentee ballots. That tally gave McCloskey the four-vote advantage, the slimmest victory margin for a House race in this century. The Republicans walked out of the House chamber in protest.

``There's no unanimity over who won the last race,'' says editor Zaltsberg. ``You can pick 10 people on the street in Bloomington and five people will think McCloskey won the last race. And five people think McIntyre won it.''

Still, the issue has failed to generate much enthusiasm among voters.

``My feeling is that this is a real low-interest campaign in this state,'' says Brian Vargus, director of the public opinion laboratory at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Both sides are predicting a low turnout.

``It goes back to organizational ability and getting the vote out in a race like that,'' says Bob Whitehouse, a lobbyist and former Republican official.

Each camp says its polls show its candidate ahead. The latest numbers, from the Republicans, have McIntyre with a five-point lead, 49 to 44, with very few undecideds. The key, both sides agree, is the populous Evansville area, a Democratic stronghold where McIntyre must do well.

By some accounts, McCloskey is more politically attuned this time around. Last week, when Zenith announced an Evansville facility was being moved to Mexico, McCloskey held a press conference there with House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas to highlight the problem. ``He had a great week,'' Mr. Whitehouse says. ``On the basis of what I've seen so far, McCloskey's ahead.''

``These voters are not ideologically driven,'' adds former US Rep. Phil Hayes, who also supports McCloskey. ``He may get beat, but all it takes is four.''

Four votes, that is.

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