Hoosiers’ New Hue: Very Purple

Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:25pm

Can Hoosier State Republicans rebound in 2010?

It’s unlikely, multiple Indiana GOP sources say — at least for now.

Democrats are emerging from a banner year at the federal level in Indiana, where in 2008 their party’s presidential candidate won for the first time since 1964, and all three targeted Democratic Members defeated their GOP opponents by large margins. The one bright spot for Republicans was that Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) won re-election.

The GOP’s prospects in 2010 don’t look that much better, and instead Indiana Republicans are looking forward to 2012, after state Republican lawmakers redraw the Congressional lines — likely in their party’s favor.

“Honestly, I’m not that optimistic” for 2010, one Hoosier State Republican operative said. “And the reason I say that is because our chances in 2012 will be a lot better.”

Democrats redrew the Congressional district lines in 2002, a move the GOP operative credited as the reason the party eventually ended up winning five out of nine seats in the delegation.

“We don’t have that many Democrats in Indiana,” the operative said. “It’s more than likely we should be able to draw at least one [more] Republican district.”

Republicans could have a better shot at taking back the seat held by Rep. Baron Hill (D) in 2012, when it is rumored he may be interested in leaving Congress to run for governor. His departure in a presidential year could give Republicans a big boost in the southeastern Indiana district — depending on how state GOP lawmakers redraw the lines.

Yet even without redistricting, Hoosier Republicans see Hill’s 9th district seat as their best pickup opportunity in 2010. Hill and former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) faced off against each other four times in a row from 2002 to 2008, with the Republican winning a single term only once in 2004. Sodrel performed his worst in 2008, when he lost to Hill by a 19-point margin.

“I think that obviously the most likely [pickup] scenario for Republicans is in the 9th,” another Indiana GOP operative said. “Hill won by a pretty comfortable margin this time, but I still think it has the potential to be a very good seat for us.”

State Republicans believe new candidate blood in the district could give Republicans a better shot at Hill’s seat. Attorney Todd Young (R) announced Monday that he is exploring a bid.

But Sodrel was independently wealthy — a major plus for any candidate there, especially since the district is one of the most expensive in the state. The district is expensive because is spans four television markets.

Democrats and some local Republicans see the other two recently elected Democratic Members, Reps. Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth, as safe until redistricting takes effect in 2011.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain cautioned, however, that they are actively recruiting in those districts for 2010.

“We are in the early stages of the recruitment process, but we believe there are some potential pickup opportunities in the Hoosier state,” Spain said.

And at least one Republican is looking to challenge Sen. Evan Bayh (D) in 2010. Attorney Dan Dumezich, who has raised money for almost every Republican campaign in the state, is considering a bid against the one-time Democratic governor.

Dumezich is personally wealthy, which makes him an especially attractive candidate against Bayh, who reported having more than $10 million in his campaign account at the end of September 2008.

Indiana Republicans are quick to point out that Bayh’s father, former Sen. Birch Bayh (D), lost to then-Rep. Dan Quayle (R) in 1980 in a somewhat surprising upset. The same Indiana GOPers also acknowledged that Dumezich has an uphill climb against Bayh — especially with the successful statewide operation that Democrats put into place in 2008.

“When you’re running against a Bayh in Indiana, it’s always going to be an uphill battle,” one of the Republican operatives said.

The good news for Republicans, however, is that Democrats appear to have capsized on opportunities to win seats in the state. After two unsuccessful bids against Republican Reps. Mark Souder and Steve Buyer, national Democrats say they are not looking to target Indiana this cycle for pickup opportunities.

Chris Sautter, a Democratic consultant who has worked extensively in Indiana, said both the 3rd and 5th districts are “tough” for Democrats.

“Can a challenger take those districts? Very tough, because of the numbers,” Sautter said. “But if you get an open-seat situation, I think anything is possible.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R) might also run for governor in 2012, although his 6th district is more conservative than many other GOP seats in the state.

The big GOP shakeup in Indiana is more likely to occur in the 5th district primary, where several top-tier candidates are expected to challenge longtime Rep. Dan Burton (R). Burton staved off a 2008 primary defeat, winning 52 percent to 45 percent against former Marion County Coroner John McGoff. McGoff is considering another run for the seat.

McGoff will be in good company: Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, state Rep. Mike Murphy, former Indiana Republican Party Executive Director Luke Messer and former 7th district GOP nominee Brose McVey are all looking at getting into the Republican primary against Burton.