Democratic gathering spurs talk of 2016 candidates

The official business of the Indiana Democrats' convention Saturday may have been to formally nominate candidates for 2014, but much of the talk was about two politicians eyeing a run for governor in 2016.

Delegates to the convention wore stickers asking former Democratic nominee John Gregg to give it another try in 2016. Meanwhile, Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott worked the circuit of parties Friday night talking with activists and party leaders.

Gregg and McDermott said Saturday they are still deciding whether to take the plunge, but are motivated by a belief that Gov. Mike Pence is more interested in running for president than leading the state.

"He hasn't paid attention to us since day one," McDermott said. "He's been focused on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."

Democrats awarded Beth White the nomination for secretary of state, Mike Claytor the nomination for auditor and Mike Boland the nod for treasurer. Indiana's Republicans are set to formalize their picks next week in Fort Wayne, setting up the matches for the November ballot.

But many eyes are focused on November 2016, when the governor's office is again on the ballot.

Any Democratic candidate would face some clear hurdles put in place by the state's conservative leanings and strength of its Republicans. Mitt Romney easily beat President Barack Obama in Indiana in 2012 and Republicans established a supermajority in the state House of Representatives for the first time in four decades.

But Democrats pulled out a few victories, including Joe Donnelly defeating Treasurer Richard Mourdock for the open U.S. Senate seat and Glenda Ritz unexpectedly upsetting then-Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Gregg, a former House speaker, came within three percentage points of beating Pence, but lost. After the election, he spent some time analyzing his campaign and appeared to withdraw from future consideration in a statement issued last year.

"There's a lot of people here today encouraging me to take another look at it, but right now I'm focusing on Mike [Boland] and Mike [Claytor]—the Mike squared ticket—and Beth White, and I'd like to see us pick up some more legislative seats," Gregg said Saturday.

Gregg and McDermott both have a core group of advisers helping them decide whether to take the plunge, but both say it's too early to make a decision.

A staffer followed Gregg around the convention Saturday as he spoke to various groups of Democrats before taking the main stage and delivering a campaign-style speech introducing Claytor. He got a standing ovation from delegates when he held up a prop suitcase he said was meant for Pence, a symbol of the amount of out-of-state traveling Pence has been doing.

"It seems the governor has been everywhere as of late, but Indiana. And it seems like Hoosier taxpayers have been footing the bill," Gregg said.

Democratic leaders cleared a path for Gregg in 2012, the same as they did for then-Senate candidate Joe Donnelly. Both men avoided potentially bruising primary battles.

But McDermott said Saturday the Democratic party needs a good primary battle to help iron out the vulnerabilities of whoever they nominate in 2016.

McDermott, a Democratic firebrand with deep ties in the northwest region of the state, said his style is similar to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: blunt and outspoken. It would be a sharp contrast to Gregg's folksy, down-home demeanor.

"I think certain people really like people like myself, I'm not sugar-coating everything," he said.

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