Indiana Democrats ponder future ahead of convention

Indiana Democrats heading to Fort Wayne for their state convention this weekend are already considering who among them is best placed to lead the party back to the political prosperity they enjoyed under former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh.

Democrats have not won a statewide office in Indiana since Bayh was elected to his last Senate term in 2004. The 2010 election was particularly galling, as the party lost Bayh's seat, three congressional seats and control of the state House of Representatives.

The Democrats are hoping not to cede more ground to the Republicans in November. They hope to win back the governor's office and the other U.S. Senate seat, seats currently held by outgoing Republicans, and are battling for several key U.S. House seats. Statehouse leaders are also looking to recoup seats in the Indiana House where Republicans outnumber them 60-40.

Amid all the electoral battles, Indiana Democrats are struggling to find someone to lead their own party.

Party Chairman Dan Parker hoped to leave his post last December but was forced to stay on because his chosen successor couldn't get enough support among top Democrats. The intraparty battle revealed a split between the party apparatus that had grown up around Bayh's tenure and an urban faction led in part by Lake County Chairman Tom McDermott and Marion County Chairman Ed Treacy.

"Notwithstanding the division about who our state chairman is, I think the party is coming together to support John Gregg and Vi Simpson," said Kip Tew, a former state Democratic Party chairman from Indianapolis. "Despite the fact that Dan Parker is a bit of an embarrassment, the rest of us have decided that we all need to be together."

It's clear that the party is moving on from Bayh's control, but a new leader will not be clear until after the November's elections, Parker said Thursday. He says the party's success will show in November, but they have already been successful in recruiting a strong group of candidates to run against Republicans.

"Without the leadership provided by a whole host of us, we would not have had a statewide ticket put together," Parker said. He declined to respond directly to Tew's remarks, only saying generally of his critics that "it's easy to criticize from the cheap seats."

Parker emphasized the party's success in clearing the Senate and governor's race of Democratic challengers, giving Gregg and Donnelly better footing heading into November. In particular, the grueling Republican primary battle between U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock has national Democrats paying more attention to what would otherwise be a safe seat for Republicans.

Gubernatorial candidate John Gregg's hand-picked replacement for Parker, longtime aide Tim Jeffers, failed to win enough support from the state central committee last year and withdrew from the race at the last minute. The move prompted Parker to take control of the party meeting and rescind his retirement.

Jeffers signed on with Gregg's campaign but left last week, telling campaign staffers in an e-mail that he wants to spend more time with his five children. Gregg said Jeffers will still help write policy for the campaign.

Gregg likens the party infighting to alley cats scrapping.

"It's just like cats in an alley: You think they're fighting when all they're doing is making more cats," he said. "You hear all that noise, all we're doing is making more Democrats."

Parker said he is staying on until the next party chairman election in March 2013. If Gregg wins the governor's office, he will likely be given the pick of the next chairman. If Gregg loses and Democrat Joe Donnelly wins his U.S. Senate race, Donnelly would most likely get that privilege. And if both candidates lose, expect a battle among the party leaders for control of the party.

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