Indiana Democrats flocked to the Republican stronghold of Allen County this weekend for the party convention, a move reflective of their broader strategy to swing the state's moderate Republican voters to their candidates.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg has not only acknowledged the need to attract moderate Republicans, but also has asked supporters at campaign stops to lobby Republicans they know for support. Gregg closed his speech Saturday at the state convention with an appeal to "Dick Lugar Republicans" he claims have been alienated by the Republican Party.
"They've just been told they're not welcome in their party anymore," he said to loud applause from Democratic activists gathered at the Grand Wayne Center.
Throughout Saturday's meeting, Democrats lauded Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry for holding the city in Democratic hands. But Henry is a rare example in Allen County.
"We're bad at tooting our own horn" said Jason McFarland, 36, of Fort Wayne. He's a United Autoworker member who works at the Fort Wayne General Motors plant.
He said he thinks some issues—such as America's biggest earners not paying a portion of their social security taxes—would easily trump more divisive social issues that keep Allen County voters in the Republican fold.
Democrats attempted Saturday to paint the state Republican Party as tea party "extremists," while explaining the need for Republican and independent voters to side with them.
Vi Simpson, a candidate for lieutenant governor, alleged that Republican candidate Mike Pence would drive the state to the "extreme right side of the road."
But with Gov. Mitch Daniels' popularity and the grueling 2010 elections in which Democrats lost control of the House and a pair of seats in the state congressional delegation, it's unclear how well their pleas will work.
Jack Butcher, 75, said the northeast Indiana county has voted Republican all his life and will most likely stay that way. But Evan Bayh—the last Democrat to win a statewide office—was able to swing Republican support his way in 2004, even in strongholds like Allen County, the Fort Wayne resident said.
"He just seems like the kind of guy you would go up and talk to," Butcher said.
Indiana Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat said that Democrats may say they're inclusive, but their negative rhetoric is divisive.
"While Republican candidates are idea-driven and taxpayer-focused, Indiana Democrats only seek to tear down, as evidenced by their campaign rhetoric this weekend," he said.
Allen County Republican chairman Steven Shine said voters need to be reminded of the troubles Indiana faced when Democrats held the governor's office. This weekend, the GOP spent $10,000 to run an ad on Fort Wayne stations blasting Democrats for their management of state government from 1987-2005.
"I intend to get our message out on the same level they do," Shine said.
The ad revisits an issue from the 2004 campaign—the state Family and Social Services Administration. That part of state government that has suffered under Republican leadership, with newspaper investigations into child deaths across the state and a court battle over Gov. Mitch Daniels' efforts to attempts to privatize delivery of welfare.
Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer says the ad points to another obstacle Democrats must overcome in November: the money advantage Republicans hold in Indiana.
"If you can, you put out more twisted truth, you can twist the facts," he said.