What's happening with Indiana Democrats in 2024?
Plus: Inside Indianapolis mayoral machinations and a potential ethics violation.
Indiana Democratic candidates are off to a slow start for statewide offices compared to their Republican brethren and sistren. So far, three Republicans have declared for governor—Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch; Sen. Mike Braun; and Fort Wayne businessperson Eric Doden (news of each, by the way, was first broken by IMPORTANTVILLE and POLITICO). Watch to see what Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers does after session concludes; rumors that he would weigh a Senate bid, recruited by Mitch Daniels acolytes, have always been suspect).
Meanwhile, when it comes to U.S. Senate, Rep. Jim Banks has all but cleared the field. Though Gov. Eric Holcomb and former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth have yet to say publicly what their plans are, those close to Hollingsworth do not expect him to run, and he has been privately encouraging Banks behind the scenes, according to a person familiar. He did not respond to a Friday morning text from IMPORTANTVILLE about his intentions.
But Indiana Democrats have dallied on both the gubernatorial and Senate fronts when it comes to announcing bids. This week, some of the internal frustration in the party when it comes to candidate recruitment burst into the open, with native Hoosier and Joe Biden’s erstwhile chief of staff Ron Klain repeatedly tweeting about the importance of the race.
“I think it’s a winnable race with the right candidate who can rally rising support in the ring counties around Indy, plus pull back some lost voters in places like Kokomo, Anderson, New Castle,” all industrial and manufacturing hubs in the state, Klain told me. “I think [Rep. Jim] Banks [the likely Republican candidate] is too extreme for the state.”
But the only Hoosier Democrat who has privately expressed interest in taking on Banks is Indianapolis City-County Councillor Keith Potts. But, but, but: After IMPORTANTVILLE reported earlier this week that Christina Hale, the former state legislator-turned lieutenant governor candidate-turned 5th district candidate-turned Biden administration appointee was swearing off seeking office in 2024, several national and state Democrats are seeking to change her mind. Democrats like her because at the time of her state legislative victory, she was the only Democrat who had taken out a Republican legislator. The thinking: Klain has boxed himself in to help on a national level.
For governor, former Republican and superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick is the only candidate who is making serious moves, including assembling a team of folks described to me as notable consultants with national pedigrees. She unsettled a number of prominent Hoosier Democrats in an interview with me earlier this year in which she could not recall much of her presidential or gubernatorial voting record.
It’s unclear what the rest of the beleaguered Democratic bench will do in 2024. A number of Democrats want former Secretary of State candidate Destiny Wells to challenge Attorney General Todd Rokita, who announced recently that he is running for re-election. The Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and former deputy attorney general has been selected for a battalion command and is reassessing her next steps. She is leaning toward staying involved in state party as a deputy chair.
Meanwhile, former Democratic Senate candidate and Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott has all-but declared a fatwa on his own party leaders this week, including calling Klain a “jag-off.” “We have a major problem in Indiana, and I don't see anything being done to fix it. Nothing,” McDermott said on his radio show “Left of Center” this week.
“Democrats had a good 2022 across the county,” he continued. “In Indiana, we got shelled. Of course, we had no help whatsoever from Washington, D.C. We were completely on our own.”
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl sat at the same table as McDermott, who himself sat next to McCormick, whom he has criticized, at the Allen County Democratic Party’s Obama Dinner last night. IMPORTANTVILLE would’ve loved to have been a fly on the table’s centerpiece.
For now, until the state legislative session is over, both of these races will be on the back-burner. But expect several dominoes to fall after Sine Die—the end of the state legislative session.
No matter those developments, 2024 remains an uphill climb for Hoosier Democrats. “With no disrespect, it doesn’t matter,” John Gregg, the former two-time Democratic nominee and former Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, told me last December as he surveyed the 2024 candidate pool