Robert Dion, a political science professor in Indiana, sums up the political picture in the state: “The big picture in Indiana remains a place where the Republican Party is dominant and it’s a tall order for a statewide Democrat to get elected. Neither party is going to put it on the list of battleground states.” In 2019, we saw the same trends as elsewhere nationally- rural areas becoming more red, urban areas more blue and suburban areas purple. The problem for Democrats in Indiana is that outside Indianapolis, there are no big urban areas.
Both parties declared victory. For the GOP, state chairman Kyle Hopfer noted that Republicans won mayor races in 70 cities which is a historic record. He also noted that the party, including Governor Holcomb’s reelection campaign, invested $250,000 in local races. In some cities, the GOP flipped decades of Democrat mayors.
John Zody, the Democrat chairman, noted the landslide victory for the Democrats in the Indianapolis mayor’s race. They gained six seats on the City Council also including the ouster of four incumbents. Equally important, he notes, is the fact Democrats gained advantages in the suburbs for the first time ever.
Is the picture all rosy for the GOP in Indiana? Like every state, there is some dissension and rancor, but the so-called Trump effect does not play into the equation. Instead, the rancor is at the local level and Zody noted such saying that where Democrats won, they focused on local issues, not national ones and certainly not President Trump. He did acknowledge that things are getting tougher in the rural areas and Indiana is largely a rural state which echoes the observations of that political science professor. To prevail, Democrats in the state cannot mirror the party nationally.
A perfect example is the upcoming 2020 gubernatorial race. State senator Eddie Melton, a Democrat, recently became the third Democrat to declare their candidacy. The Republican state school superintendent, originally appointed to the state board of education by Mike Pence before becoming a state senator, introduced Melton at the announcement. After a series of summer appearances with Melton, McCormick received a rebuke from the GOP leadership. She has been highly critical of the GOP legislature not only in areas of education, but others. GOP chairman Hopfer, who is also Holcomb’s campaign manager, questioned whether she was still a Republican and insinuated she was auditioning for Lt. Governor’s job come 2020.
There is also the case of GOP state attorney general Curtis Hill who got caught up in his own #MeToo controversy amid charges of groping. Making no mention of the charges, he announced his bid for reelection with frequent references to AOC, Pelosi and Trump. Several GOP leaders, including Holcomb, have asked him not to seek reelection. Hill is no stranger on television as he has often appeared on Fox to discuss subjects well beyond Indiana. To get the nomination, he has to convince delegates at the state convention and is counting on social conservatives given his stance on abortion.
And just as the dust settled on the 2019 elections, Pete Visclosky dropped a bombshell out of the blue and said he would not seek reelection in the Fifth District. The Fifth reaches into parts of Indianapolis and covers the very suburbs where Democrats made local gains on Election Day. Trump and Holcomb should not have much to worry about here, but a House candidate may.
Recently, Indiana became the third state to cease efforts to impose a work mandate on Medicaid recipients. This dealt an unnecessary blow against the Trump administration’s efforts to overhaul the system. On Election Day, several thousand teachers descended on the capital to demand more respect from the GOP-led legislature. This closed more than half the state’s school districts. Intent on not antagonizing the teachers, Holcomb and other GOP leaders avoided criticism considering that Matt Bevin lost his job in Kentucky partially for doing just that. Regardless, they do not intend to take up increased school funding until 2021.
We should also not forget one person in Indiana politics- Pete Buttigieg. Even though he is holding his own in the Democrat’s presidential clown car sweepstakes, there is some talk that should he stumble in the early primaries/caucuses, it would give him enough time to drop out and throw his hat in the gubernatorial sweepstakes.
Next in this series: Michigan