INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Hogsett arrived at a Far Eastside community event this summer to participate in an anti-violence march. He was late -- but made his presence known.
"Sorry I’m late, brother, but it’s a good day for a walk," he exclaimed.
The centrist Democratic candidate for mayor shook hands, doled out hugs, and smiled wide for photographs. Hogsett’s adversary, Republican Chuck Brewer, was at the community day events too. He arrived later. He greeted guests and chatted with people staffing booths. But there was no speech over the P.A. system or group photos like Hogsett.
This was friendly territory for Hogsett, sure, but it shows the stark difference in the personalities of the two men seeking to replace Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, is retiring after two terms.
Working a room doesn’t seem like it comes quite as naturally for Brewer yet — lacking the polish of a more experienced politician. And he’s not. This is his first campaign. He told WFYI he hadn’t planned to run mayor, but had his eye on the city council.
"Running for mayor was not part of my master plan," he told the program No Limits. "But I stepped up into the role because I feel really strongly that we need a good leader that is not political and doesn’t bring politics into managing the city."
Brewer, who’s 43, moved to Indianapolis to open a Potbelly sandwich shop on Monument Circle. He soon after opened a soup shop around the corner. Before getting into business, Brewer served 23 years in the Marine Corps, which included two tours in Iraq.
His lack of experience running for elected office is the opposite of his opponent’s background.
Hogsett, who is 58, stepped down from his appointed role as a U.S. Attorney last year to run for mayor. A Democrat, he was Indiana secretary of state for the first half of the 1990s. He then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and House, as well as for state Attorney General. Hogsett told WFYI’s No Limits that he learned a lot from all those defeats.
"The most amazing happens to you when that occurs, the sun comes up the next day and life goes on," he said. "And all too often in today’s political climate, we have people who are so concerned about winning or losing the next election, they become captive. And they won’t make tough, long-term decisions that put their political careers in jeopardy."
Few expect this race for mayor to be another defeat for Hogsett. He’s been the assumed winner for months. His name recognition and fundraising far outpace Brewer. And he flooded the airwaves with television ads early.
But Brewer has countered the notion that Hogsett is the clear winner with a subtle slight at the end of his stump speeches. "There are two kinds of people that run for political office," he's said. "There are people that just desperately want to be somebody and they will run for any office they can. And there are people that just want to do great things."
But that’s about as negative as this race has been. A political cartoon even depicted the two candidates both saying “I agree with him” at the same time. The campaign has been civil and substance driven, even if Brewer and Hogsett agree in a lot of areas.
Paul Helmke directs a civic leadership center at IU Bloomington and is also a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne. He says this race is attracting very little attention.
"I think part of that’s because the national scene has drawn away a lot of the attention," Helmke said. "Because of that, using paid media, advertising, is crucial."
Helmke points out that eight years ago, Ballard was a huge underdog trying to unseat Mayor Bart Peterson. "You can’t assume the money and television advertising is going to determine who the winner is. There’s stuff that goes on underneath the radar that often times can change the outcome," he said.
The lopsided presumptions and civil sparring could depress voter turnout November 3. And Indiana already struggles with high voter apathy so expect low turnout.
"I can’t see it really hurting Hogsett because even if there are few people that turn out, the fact that a lot of people do have confidence in his candidacy I think would benefit him," said University of Indianapolis political scientist Laura Mansfield Albright.
But Hogsett will still have to knock off Brewer, a moderate Republican in a moderate city to become the next mayor.