By Susan Brown
On his third full day on the campaign trail since Tuesday's primary election, Senate hopeful Dan Coats stopped at Area Sheet Metal Inc., a successful, family owned union shop where workers had many issues on their minds.
Coats, a Republican, is expected to vie with U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., for the Senate seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. Because of the timing of Bayh's decision to forgo another run, the Democratic State Central Committee is expected to name Ellsworth as the Democratic candidate for the seat May 15.
The Senate seat is the same Coats held from 1989 to 1999. He subsequently served a U.S. ambassador to Germany and worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
Coats' usually vocal criticism of Ellsworth was muted Friday, even to the point of Coats inviting Area Sheet Metal workers to learn more about his competitor. "Hoosiers deserve a choice," he said.
"I didn't come to talk. I came to listen," he told workers, urging their questions.
What he heard were concerns about unemployment, health care, the deficit, unfair competition and the polarization of Congress.
"My main concern right now is our getting back to work," David Leonard told Coats. Leondard's family started the sheet metal company in 1971 in their garage. The business now encompasses three buildings in Hobart and one in Gary, employing 75 workers.
Leonard was emphatic in telling Coats jobs need to be created and kept in the U.S. rather than Mexico.
Dave Thomas, business agent for Sheet Metal Workers Local 20, broached the issue of health care reform, questioning Coats on his position on the single-payer system as practiced in Canada and parts of Western Europe.
And sheet metal worker Chuck Sapper wanted to know what Coats would do about members of Congress refusing to work across both sides of the aisle.
In answer, Coats said he favors lowering taxes to boost business and create jobs.
He stood firm in opposing the single-payer system of health care, saying the system lowers quality and raises wait times.
Nor does he have any faith in President Barack Obama's health care reform.
"It will only add to the cost," he said. He supports the same flexibility for health insurance as for home or car insurance, he said.
Coats said it's the responsibility of those who oppose Obama's plan to come up with constructive alternatives.
Though the son of Swedish immigrants, he is "hard-nosed" on the immigration issue, he said. He opposes such measures as granting asylum to longtime U.S. residents of other countries, in part to safeguard jobs for Americans.
Coats acknowledged the political polarization on the part of Congress, saying it was hard for the two sides of the aisle to find common ground.
"I don't know if I have a solution for that," he said, agreeing politics needs to be put aside with an eye to the future.
He sought to assure workers he was on their side, saying in tough economic times the government needs to support its jobless. He is unconvinced more federal money can't be shifted toward worker needs, he said.
"To say there's nothing that can be cut is ludicrous," he said.