Buttigieg campaign manager announces bid for state party chair

Mike Schmuhl helped raise $100 million in a darkhorse presidential campaign. Can he save Hoosier Democrats?

Photo credit: Jill Zimmerman.

Mike Schmuhl—the South Bend operative who ran the most well-funded political campaign in Indiana history for his childhood friend Pete Buttigieg— announced a bid for Indiana Democratic Party chair on Wednesday.

“We are at a turning point for both our party and our state,” Schmuhl said in a statement Wednesday. “The Indiana Democratic Party needs a fresh vision and a strategic plan to start winning again to improve the lives of Hoosiers in every part and corner of our state.”

Schmuhl, 38, will be running on a ticket with Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge.

Cordelia Lewis-Burks, the longtime Indiana Democratic Party and AFSCME leader, endorsed Schmuhl.

"As the Party's outgoing Vice-Chair and a long-time DNC member, I have had the pleasure of working with Mike Schmuhl as he's organized to elect Democrats at every level,” Lewis-Burks said. “Those experiences, including his work on the Pete for America campaign, are proof that he can bring our big tent together and win races up and down the ballot. I am proud to support Mike and Clerk Eldridge in this year's reorganization and I'm confident they will help move the Indiana Democratic Party forward in the years to come."

Arielle Brandy, president of Indiana Young Democrats, also endorsed Schmuhl.

“The Indiana Democratic Party is in need of bold leadership that is ready to take on challenges, bring an innovative mindset that not only just elects Democrats into office, but is willing to make intentional investments into communities across the state that are eager for change and seat at the table,” Brandy commented. “I know that with the leadership of Mike and Myla, our party will be able to leverage the talent, skills and organizing ability of Young Hoosiers and marginalized communities that are tired of sitting and waiting their turn in Party politics.”

Schmuhl—a former aide to Joe Donnelly, Mel Hall, and Shelli Yoder—first took himself out of the running in 2020 but reversed course after party leaders spent weeks urging him to reconsider. He is currently a director at Heartland Ventures, a Midwestern venture capital firm, where he works on brand development and investor relations. IMPORTANTVILLE first reported his renewed interest in the position on Jan. 26.

If elected, Schmuhl faces several candidate recruitment hurdles ahead of the 2022 campaign cycle, including finding a candidate to run into what is likely to be a buzzsaw of a re-election campaign mounted by Sen. Todd Young, who is sitting on a warchest of nearly $2.7 million.

Schmuhl brings a deep national fundraising network from a presidential campaign that raised nearly $100 million and employed nearly 600, and seek to resuscitate a Hoosier Democratic donor base that has relied on a few key powerhouse donors in recent cycles. He ran the Buttigieg campaign like a startup and would take a similar entrepreneurial approach to the Indiana Democratic Party.

Schmuhl’s candidacy is said to have received warm receptions from Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Rep. André D. Carson, who are the putative leaders of the party and will have an outsized influence on the selection of the next state party chair.

Current chairman John Zody, who has been chair since 2013, announced he would not seek re-election after November's election. His final term ends in March.

Schmuhl has been in touch with members of the State Central Committee, who will ultimately choose Zody's successor.

There are technically no official candidates for state party chair at present because no one has filed, but party activist Trish Whitcomb, a longtime Hoosier Democratic campaign hand, has also said she is running. The filing process is on the agenda for the next State Central Committee meeting on Feb. 13.

The committee slated to select Zody’s replacement on March 20.