State Senate District 30 is one of those areas where voters do quirky things. Things like vote for both Barack Obama and Mitch Daniels by solid majorities in 2008.
It's one of those districts -- because it includes IPS neighborhoods such as Broad Ripple and Meridian-Kessler as well as congested areas in Fishers along the I-69 corridor -- where issues such as mass transit and education reform receive outsized measures of attention.
It's a politically savvy district, home to several lobbyists and key political figures. In fact, it includes both of the governor's residences: the official one in Butler-Tarkington and Daniels' private residence in Carmel.
Finally, it's now the host of one of the state's most competitive Indiana Senate races, one waged by two men from well-known political families and with sharply different views on major issues.
The race won't determine control of the Senate -- Republicans have a tight grip on that -- but the result could further cement the GOP's dominance, or offer Democrats in that chamber some much-needed momentum.
Moreover, the race could offer a hint about the direction Central Indiana voters want the General Assembly to take on crucial issues.
Republican Scott Schneider, a 45-year-old small-business owner, now occupies the seat. A former City-County Councilman whose father, William, is a local legend in GOP politics, Schneider was chosen by a GOP caucus to fill the Senate seat when it became vacant in 2009.
A strong advocate of fiscal discipline, he's facing the district's voters for the first time this year, and his conservative views -- he led efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood and teach creationism in schools -- have proven to be a challenge in the moderate district.
"The district is independent," he said. "People are more interested in good government and the person. Party labels don't mean as much."
Democrat Tim DeLaney, a 32-year-old lawyer, hopes to replace Schneider come November. The son of state Rep. Ed DeLaney and former state party chairwoman Ann DeLaney, he rarely talks to a voter without stressing his belief in bipartisanship. He argues that the legislature in general, and Schneider in particular, have wasted valuable time on social-issue debates that make it hard to tackle more important matters.
DeLaney's strong performance in the race has been made clear by the negative TV ads and mailings Republicans have recently unveiled against him. The criticism has been aimed at a nuance in one of his positions: he supports the property tax caps enacted into state law several years ago but also believes they shouldn't have been amended into the state constitution.
DeLaney calls it "gotcha politics" and a settled issue, and argues Republicans are trying to distract voters from Schneider's far-right ideology.
"I want to take a pragmatic approach to addressing the state's problems," he said, "and my opponent has a track record of taking a strictly ideological approach to legislating."
Schneider is indeed one of the legislature's most conservative members. But, of DeLaney's property tax positions, he shoots back: "That's what he says now. But that's a matter of splitting hairs. You're either for the caps or you're not."
Despite the typical silliness -- the negative mailings and commercials -- the race is worth watching, as both candidates are sharp and make a strong case for themselves. Although they don't agree on much, they do agree on one thing: there are clear differences between them.
>> Schneider says he is a stridently anti-tax voice that the district needs, and in a conversation last week he essentially ruled out any tax increase for any reason. DeLaney, meanwhile, emphasized his intention to become a leading advocate of early learning programs and a Central Indiana mass-transit expansion -- areas that would require new revenue. He calls them critical to the state's future. Although Schneider talks favorably about expanding local bus service, he is skeptical about a plan to fund it. He has not supported public financing of preschool programs.
>> Schneider helped lead the push for the anti-union "right to work" legislation enacted this year, which DeLaney strongly opposes.
>> DeLaney said he would urge the legislature to adopt Mitch Daniels' onetime call for a truce on social issues. Schneider is campaigning on issues such as jobs and the budget but has been a leading voice on social issues. "I'll consider them as they come up," he said. DeLaney's reply: "I think many people agree with me that no matter how strongly you feel about these issues, they don't need to end up in legislation."
Both candidates are working feverishly to win what most party insiders on both sides believe will be a close race. They've been knocking on doors for months and airing TV commercials. Schneider is trying to convince voters that DeLaney is a tax-and-spend liberal. DeLaney struck back at Schneider with an ad calling him a tool of the tea party.
Both insist they have a leg up.
"Voters appreciate the issues I'm focused on -- balanced budgets, jobs and taxes," Schneider said. "And they appreciate the leadership of Mitch Daniels. They want to continue that."
For his part, DeLaney says the district's independent bent fits his style better. And he insists voters have embraced his call for bipartisanship, transit and state investments in early learning.
"The bottom line is this," he said. "If we get our message out, we win."
In a little more than four weeks, we'll know not only which candidate got his message out but also which one connected with voters.
Reach Matthew Tully at (317) 444-6033 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @matthewltully.