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Oct. 5—ANDERSON — Melanie Wright is under no illusions about the difficulty of the road ahead.
Late last week Wright, a former three-term Democratic state representative, announced on Facebook that she is running for the 5th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives currently held by Republican Victoria Spartz.
The 5th District has been a reliable GOP stronghold for nearly three decades. The last Democrat to win a congressional election in the district was Jim Jontz, who was elected to a third term in 1990. With recently approved legislative district maps removing several Indianapolis suburbs and adding more rural areas in Hamilton, Delaware, Tipton, Grant and Howard counties, the district appears to be trending even more distinctly red. Additionally, Wright is starting her campaign at a considerable fundraising disadvantage, with Spartz having nearly $600,000 on hand, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website that tracks campaign contributions and lobbying data for members of Congress.
None of those realities dissuaded Wright from returning to politics a year after losing her Indiana House seat in District 35 to Elizabeth Rowray.
"Just because people look at it and think that it might not be doable, I can't let that stop me from getting a moderate message out there," Wright said. "I'm a moderate person. I feel like that message needs to get out there, and that's important to me."
Wright, a music teacher at Daleville Elementary School, said a year away from politics quickly reminded her of what she missed most about her legislative duties.
"I loved being able to help people so much," she said. "When I was a state representative, that was my favorite part of the gig — being able to meet people and hear their stories and hear what was important to them, and then if they needed help I could just reach out and be the connection for them or help them with all different kinds of issues. It didn't matter what the party affiliation is. I just wanted to help."
Wright anticipates she'll have to raise at least $100,000 by the end of the year, then duplicate that amount every three months leading up to the Democratic primary next May. Muncie resident Jeannine Lake, who lost twice to Greg Pence in the 6th District, has been mentioned as a possible primary opponent.
Wright stressed that she's running as a moderate voice to represent an electorate she believes isn't nearly as polarized as some media outlets describe.
"I think we have more in common than what is put out there," she said. "I think if you just talk to the average Hoosier citizen, they would say they're just worried about making sure that their job is stable and making sure they have health care, and that it's OK just to have a good, stable job and be able to have a family and not have it be so challenging. That's what I want to be able to do, but just on a larger area."
She added that her family's background in farming, along with her experience serving on the Indiana House's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, have given her opportunities to make the necessary connections to run a competitive grassroots campaign.
"I just feel like if I meet enough people and build enough relationships, I have a chance at this," she said.
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.