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Old debts could cloud mayoral bid


City Councilman Mitch Harper has floated trial balloons about running for various offices several times in the past without following through and actually running. So when he told Republicans at his recent barbecue that he is definitely running for mayor in 2015, it may have been a “this time I really mean it” moment.

The race is a long way off, giving him plenty of time to address one potential weakness, easily documented in the public record.

Harper has frequently discussed holding the line on city spending and would very likely run on a platform that emphasizes fiscal conservatism. Any Democratic or GOP primary opponent will probably point out that Harper’s campaign committee ended 2011 with a debt of $59,179 – all loans he made to his own committee. The oldest unpaid debt dates to April 2007, when Harper loaned his committee $10,000.

His debt level at the end of 2011 was more than twice his 2010 debt of $26,000.

The campaign’s debt is not illegal and, for local races, is uncommon but not exactly rare. But in addition to serving as a possible campaign weakness, his debt may make some potential contributors hesitant because Harper could use contributions to repay himself for the old debt.

If his early announcement is unusual, so is the fact that rather than talk about his candidacy himself, he deferred some questions to spokesman Nick Barbknecht, who managed his campaign for City Council last year. Harper’s committee paid Barbknecht $15,725 as a campaign consultant last year – and, for Fort Wayne City Council, that is rare.

Senate control

Though the respected Cook Political Report officially labels Indiana’s Senate race as “Lean Republican,” Cook political analyst Jennifer Duffy said the matchup between Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly is probably closer to a toss- up.

“I’ve never seen a candidate have a worse first 48 hours than Richard Mourdock,” Duffy told U.S. News’ Robert Schlesinger, referring to his national comments right after the primary defining compromise as the other side giving up. “Indiana … probably deserves a place in our toss-up column,” she said.

Duffy also said that Republicans’ chances of winning a Senate majority slipped after Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, giving Democrats a good chance of holding on to a seat that was earlier thought to be a sure GOP win. She gives the GOP a 45 percent chance to win control of the Senate.

Real Clear Politics, meanwhile, says each party has 46 seats that are leaning their way or held by incumbents not up for election, meaning eight tossup states will likely make the difference. Indiana is labeled a tossup, as is Ohio, where Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown faces Republican Josh Mandel. It gauges the Missouri race as leaning Democratic.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email,