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GOP’s Harper signals early bid at mayor’s office

Harper

– The general election for Fort Wayne mayor is more than three years off, but it already has a candidate.

Mitch Harper, 56, a Republican city councilman and former state representative, says he has decided to run for mayor. Although he and his campaign manager note that he has not officially announced his candidacy or taken any steps to make himself an official candidate, he recently hosted a Republican barbecue at his home where he told those gathered about his decision.

“I wanted to get the word out to some prominent people,” Harper said, then deferred comment to Nick Barbknecht, who managed Harper’s council campaign.

Barbknecht said the early announcement is simply a matter of practicality.

“He just came to a decision the other day and thought he would tell some folks he came to that decision,” Barbknecht said.

He said Harper came to this decision the same way he decided to run for City Council – when he realized there was no one else who would represent his views, he had little choice. As for entering the race three years before the election, Barbknecht said it is disingenuous for people to be coy and pretend they haven’t made up their minds when in fact they have.

“When elected officials try to pull one over on the public, and say, ‘I’m just dipping my toe in the water,’ or ‘I’m just thinking about it,’ everyone assumes they’re running anyway,” he said. “If he didn’t bring it up, if he didn’t tell people, then he’s not being upfront with people, and that’s not how he is. If he’s come to a decision, he needs to be honest with people.”

But is there a danger in announcing too soon? Barbknecht acknowledged that every action Harper takes will now be viewed through a different lens.

“But it would be there no matter what,” he said.

Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine agreed, but said the pitfalls of such an early announcement are outweighed by the benefits.

“It does intensify the spotlight on his positions and comments,” Shine said. “I’m sure it will heighten the parsing of his votes and comments.”

There is also the danger of voter fatigue, especially during a presidential race – the last thing many people want to hear about is a political race three years off.

“But for someone planning a race of that magnitude in a metro area the size of Fort Wayne, it’s important to start early,” Shine said. “And remember, the next two years are going to be foundation building, building leadership support, building party support, building financial support. I don’t think the general public will even realize there’s a campaign going on.”

In addition, getting in early can freeze out primary competition and lets Harper define the issues, Shine said.

“Those others who are interested will have to advance their agendas faster in order to keep up,” the GOP chairman said. “This is a positive thing, because it’s going to take a real effort.”

Mayor Tom Henry, 60, who just began his second term on Jan. 1, said he has not made a decision regarding the 2015 election.

dstockman@jg.net

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