INDIANAPOLIS | As the presidential contenders prepare for their first debate tonight, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indianapolis, said he doesn't believe the swing-state voter surveys that suggest President Barack Obama is likely to defeat his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
The first-term Congressman, a Munster native whose district includes Newton and Jasper counties, is among a growing chorus of Republicans who say opinion polls showing Obama ahead are mistaken because pollsters are not surveying enough Republicans and are calculating results using predictions of voter turnout based on the last presidential election.
"The public opinion polls completely underrate and underpoll and then use 2008 data to extrapolate the number," Rokita said last week. "When you use that data to determine this election, you go down a fool's path."
Rokita admits 2008 was a good year for Obama, but he said no one is expecting the same kind of overwhelming turnout for the president this year.
"The middle class is motivated, the middle class is still free enterprise-orientated and, by the way, Mr. Obama's voting base is disenchanted and they ought to be," Rokita said. "I think a lot of those folks will stay home."
He said if Republicans can make "the president's own words known" on wealth redistribution and religion issues "this will be an electoral landslide for Mitt Romney."
Pollsters scoff at claims of widespread bias. They say poll participants reflect the partisan makeup of the states they're surveying and note that polls sponsored by Republican-leaning organizations, such as Fox News and Rasmussen Reports, also show Obama leading.
Rokita, who was Indiana's secretary of state from 2003 to 2011, is expected to cruise to re-election in the Fourth Congressional District, which was redrawn last year and is now possibly the most Republican-leaning district in the state.
His Democratic opponent, Tara Nelson of Lafayette, had $383 in her campaign account at the end of June. Rokita's war chest topped $700,000.
Last month, Rokita gave $100,000 in campaign funds to the National Republican Congressional Committee to help Republican candidates running in other districts, including Joel Phelps, of Portage, who is challenging longtime U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.
While Rokita wouldn't go so far as to predict a Phelps victory, he said "competition is a good thing."
If Rokita is re-elected, he will become one of the most senior Republican members of Indiana's House delegation.
With U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Columbus, running for governor, and the retirement of U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indianapolis, Rokita and U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe, will be nearly tied for seniority even though both men are just completing their first full terms.
Rokita said he's eager to take on a leadership role within the Hoosier delegation to help ensure Indiana gets everything it deserves from the federal government.
"I'm just going to make sure that the seniority void and the experience void is closed as quickly as possible," he said.