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Big Republican victories raise questions for Indiana Dems

November 5, 2014

Indiana Democrats are looking for places to rebuild after an election drubbing Tuesday that saw Republicans capture all three statewide offices on the ballot, build on an already overwhelming supermajority in the state Senate and project their supermajority in the House.

They'll have to start small and work their way up, building a "bench" of candidates as they go, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.

"You've got to talk to people who are sitting council members, and then you work your way up from there," he said.

It won't be a quick fix.

Indiana Democrats flourished while they controlled the governor's office from 1988 to 2004, but their fortunes quickly began to fade with the rise of Republican Mitch Daniels and the departure of Democrat Evan Bayh, who shook his party by not seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2010. The party has struggled since then with internal leadership fights and has had difficulty finding big-name candidates to attract voters.

GOP leaders attributed their success Tuesday to a decade of work and a refusal to take this midterm election for granted, even though political pundits widely believed it would be a Republican year. That proved true nationally, as the GOP reclaimed control of the U.S. Senate and won tough governor's races throughout the nation, including in some Democratic strongholds like Maryland.

In Indiana, Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry credited the GOP's "grassroots network" for getting voters to the polls in what many feared would be a historically low turnout because of the absence of races for governor or U.S. Senate.

Many of those who voted Tuesday said they were more driven by civic duty and frustrations over Washington gridlock than by the state ballot, which was led by the secretary of state, auditor and treasurer races — a situation that occurs once every 12 years.

"I think they all need to get it together, compromise and start working for the people and not themselves and get back to the old days where when you're in office, you're in office for the people," said Penny Korakis, 50, while voting in South Bend.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, who won a second term in the 2nd District, said she hoped the fact that Republicans reclaimed control of the U.S. Senate would help ease the partisan bickering that has dogged Washington.

"I think if we have a Republican Senate, it helps end the gridlock and I think the president has to be accountable to the American people. There's nobody to hide behind. I think it will move good policy," Walorski said.

All nine members of the state's congressional delegation easily won re-election despite voters' frustration with Washington. Indiana Republicans hold an advantage there, too, outnumbering Democrats 7-2.

In Indiana, the GOP's strong showing Tuesday allows Republicans to retain control of top statewide offices while increasing their numbers in the Legislature.

Auditor Suzanne Crouch and Secretary of State Connie Lawson were both easily elected to full, four-year terms, while voters picked Republican Kelly Mitchell as state treasurer.

Republicans increased their grip on the state Senate to 40-10, while House Republicans retained the supermajority that enables them to conduct business with no Democrats present.

That strength could help further their success as Republican lawmakers prepare to push priorities that include education spending, tighter ethics rules for lawmakers and a new state budget.

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