INDems’ Year on the Offensive is “Refreshing”, “the Right Move,” and “Could Pay Off” for Party’s Future


Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg: “they put a face with people in their communities that are Democrat, and they’ve started planting some seeds”

By end of “Small Town, Indiana” tour, INDems will have held events in 55 counties in just five months 

ICYMI: INGOP Chair Kyle Hupfer calls Gov. Holcomb’s READI program “socialism”

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Democratic Party, the organization that advocates for the future of Indiana and its families, today passed along the following report by the IndyStar highlighting the Indiana Democrats’ laser-focused effort to meet voters where they are and promote how President Joe Biden and Democrats are creating a better future for Hoosier families. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, this record includes getting COVID-19 vaccines in arms, fully-funding Indiana’s public schools, investing $250 million for broadband expansion, providing $540 million to solve the state’s childcare crisis, supplying $500 million for Governor Eric Holcomb’s READI program, and delivering economic relief in all 92 counties. 

Democrats have shared this record with Hoosiers in rural communities with its “Small Town, Indiana” tour. Leaders like Dr. Jennifer McCormick, State Senators Shelli Yoder and Fady Qaddoura, and educators like Melanie Wright have fought back against the Indiana Republican Party’s manufactured culture wars on issues that matter most to Hoosier families, like agriculture and public education. The “Small Town” tour has stops scheduled for Bedford tonight with additional stops in Hartford City, and Vincennes later this week. 

In contrast, Indiana Republicans’ extreme partisanship has gotten in the way of bipartisan solutions for Hoosier families. INGOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer instead described the American Rescue Plan – even Governor Eric Holcomb’s READI program – as “socialism”. U.S. Congressman Jim Banks said the Governor’s program was a part of a “tyrannical agenda”. Democrats look forward to campaigning on the Rescue Plan through the 2022 elections. 

Indiana Democrats are campaigning in rural, Republican areas. Will it pay off?

IndyStar // Kaitlin Lange

…As former Democratic Rep. Melanie Wright put it that night, it also afforded Democrats the chance to demonstrate to potential voters that Democrats “didn’t have horns growing” out of their heads.

Under new leadership, the state party has used this non-election year to tour the state, targeting rural areas where Democrats have been brutally beaten in recent elections. It’s a unique move and a departure from recent conventional wisdom that Democrats’ best shot of making headway in Indiana is to fortify their urban bases and flip voters in suburban areas such as Fishers and Carmel. 

Of the almost 60 tour stops Democrats will have made by the end of November, more than half are in counties Trump won by at least 30% and half have populations under 70,000. Typically parties and candidates focus on areas they have more support in instead, which in Indiana would considerably narrow the number of counties the Democrats might visit.

Experts say the strategy could succeed long term by playing off some Republicans’ discomfort with their party’s direction. That would give Democrats some badly needed wins in a state where no Democrat has been elected statewide since 2012 and Republicans have supermajorities in both statehouse chambers. 

“This could be a risky strategy, but it is a refreshing approach that could pay off for the party in the next election cycle,” said Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Indianapolis. “By reaching out beyond their obvious areas of strength, Democrats are strategically trying to capture voters who may have gone Republican in the past but feel less comfortable with the party now after Donald Trump.” 

The go everywhere approach

Judy Rowe didn’t want to be the Steuben County Democratic party chair again. But there were few other volunteers for the spot in the most northeastern Indiana county, where Trump won by 42 percentage points.

Rowe’s attitude changed when she heard new party chair Mike Schmuhl’s 92-county strategy. The state party was going to go everywhere, giving attention to even more Republican-leaning counties such as hers.

“To me what they’re doing is a total game changer,” she said. 

Since the Democrats’ State Central Committee tapped Schmuhl to lead the party in March, state Democrats have held four tours across the state. The first three tours were focused on Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus bill, his infrastructure package and what the Democrats viewed as a lack of transparency in the Indiana Republicans’ redistricting process. 

The party has done the legwork of pulling specific data on what the stimulus and infrastructure packages mean for local communities. Plus, state party leaders have set up speakers at each of the events, from former Sen. Joe Donnelly to former 5th Congressional District candidate Christina Hale, reducing the burden on local party members and ensuring the speakers are compelling enough.

“One of the principles that I came into this job with was we needed to throw out kind of the old playbook that says there are blue counties, red counties, purple counties, etc.,” Schmuhl said. “I just think that there’s no substitute for face to face conversation when it comes to politics or policy.” 

Even Republican Mike O’Brien, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2016 campaign manager, agreed that Schmuhl was making the right move… […]

“Conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ path forward is in central Indiana, but they are having to go to these places that they just lost by gigantic margins that you can’t possibly make up in central Indiana,” O’Brien said. “If you’re coming in third in a third of the state, you’ve got to go fix that.” […]

Indiana Democrats in rural areas of the state say the strategy is a departure from the norm. Sure, candidates such as Donnelly have visited these parts of the state when they’re running for office. But to have the party itself go on the offensive in these areas in an off election year is unusual. 

“It energizes the Democrats here,” Rowe said. “They just feel so ignored because we are so red, and in the past, the state party has not paid a lot of attention to us, certainly have never offered us the resources that the current leadership at INDEMS is providing.” […]

“A lot of people say well you know, it’ll never come back,” Gregg said about the southern Democrat vote. “You don’t know what will happen, but you can’t write off any area or interest group, any group in Indiana.  If you’re going to try to win as a Democrat, you’ve got to at least reach out to all the various groups there are.” […]

That’s where Democratic party organizers hope these statewide tours will be effective: They can have a positive impact on morale among Democrats in these rural areas, who can struggle not to get discouraged. 

“They’ve been bullied. They’ve been called all kinds of names, and we’ve got to make them feel proud again to be Democrats,” said Kent Yeager, a farm owner in Harrison County and the Indiana Democrats deputy chair for rural engagement. “They’re not the only one. They’re not just a blue dot out there in a sea of red, there are other people who feel like them.” […]

But the events can generate media headlines and excitement among the base. Plus the gatherings help party leaders identify and recruit candidates to run for office in an attempt to build back the party’s bench. 

Democrats argue they advocate for policies that should resonate with rural voters. For example, climate change can impact farmers and Democrats say rural Hoosiers will benefit from broadband expansion. 

Andy Downs, a political science professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said it’s plausible for Democrats to win in rural communities, especially in some of these small towns where people know the candidates personally.

Sullivan, a city in Sullivan County with just over 4,000 people, has a Democratic mayor. The Scott County sheriff is Democrat Jerry Goodin, brother of former state Rep. Terry Goodin, also a Democrat. Trump won more than 70% of the vote in both counties.

The statewide tours might also help Democrats make up ground in the General Assembly.

“If (Democrats are) going to even come close to winning back the House and the Senate, they’ve got to win seats that cover rural areas,” Downs said. “So going out and campaigning there, it’s not a bad idea.” […]

Democrats are not ignoring these areas: they are still making some stops in Marion County and adjacent counties. But because it’s an off-election year, they can head into the less familiar territory of rural counties without having to worry about missing out on other opportunities or using up valuable resources that could be spent places where they have a stronger base.  

“Now is the time to do it, because next year you do have to go where ultimately the population is,” Gregg said. “By going out now, they put a face with people in their communities that are Democrat, and they’ve started planting some seeds.” 


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