by PETER DORFMAN
If it were up to Andy Ruff, he’d be on the road, crisscrossing Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, trolling for votes in the June primary election. “My plan was to take my guitar and go to every county fair in the district, set up at the Democratic Party table, talk, play songs, and get to know people,” he relates. “I was going to go to all the high school events and anywhere else I could go in the district, to get with people. Who knows now? All of those events may be canceled this summer.”
A Bloomington City Council member from 2000 to 2020, Ruff announced in December that he is running for the Democratic nomination, hoping to take on Republican Representative Trey Hollingsworth.
Campaign contributions had largely dried up during the coronavirus crisis, until April 14, when Hollingsworth told an Indianapolis radio interviewer he favored risking an acceleration of COVID-19 infections to reopen the U.S. economy, arousing a storm of criticism.
“All of a sudden, money started flowing in through my ActBlue account,” Ruff says. “Hollingsworth has the advantage of incumbency and almost unlimited money, but he made things harder for himself. He’s tied the campaign to the pandemic.”
Ruff has had to cut campaign staff going into the primary, and he will have to step up fundraising. “If the Republicans sniff any kind of threat from the Democrat, they will flood television and social media with attack ads,” he asserts. “The Democratic nominee is going to have to be ready.”
If he’s nominated to challenge Hollingsworth, a transplanted Tennessean, Ruff, 57, will emphasize his Indiana roots. “I’ve lived and worked and fished and played country music in southern Indiana my whole life,” he says. “I know every river and stream in the 9th District.”
At least Ruff can still manage his day job while isolated at home. He’s an Indiana University academic advisor for Human Biology—not a department but a multidisciplinary undergraduate degree program. He advises almost 500 pre-health students.
“A lot of them are in an absolute panic about the canceled classes, canceled labs,” he says. “They’re worried about their GPAs, and ultimately their chances for med school. Not all their questions have clear answers. I’m online for 10 or 12 hours every day trying to calm them and assure them they’re going to be okay.
“I consider myself one of the fortunate ones,” Ruff says. “I can continue to work from home easily, and I know not everyone can.”