Thompson faces uphill fight against Daniels

Jill Long Thompson says she knows it will be tough to unseat Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels in November, and she already has come out swinging.

Just hours after squeaking out the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over Jim Schellinger last week, the former Indiana congresswoman verbally jabbed Daniels.

“Four years ago he went through the state wearing a flannel shirt, driving an RV, eating a lot of tenderloins, and voters want more than a flannel shirt and a connoisseur of tenderloin,” she said to reporters in Fort Wayne.

At a news conference later in Indianapolis, she was asked what she was hearing about Daniels on the campaign trail.

“Some of it’s not repeatable,” she quipped. “They are very, very discouraged by his style of management, by the decisions he’s made, by the privatization.”

It will take more than tough talk to beat Daniels, though. It will take money – probably a lot of it – to counter the war chest he has mounted and will continue to fill.

Daniels began the year with nearly $7 million cash on hand, raised another $1.5 million through the March 31 quarterly reporting period, spent about $3 million in the first three months of the year, and still had about $5.3 million left. Thompson began the year with about $440,000, raised another $470,000 through March 31 and had about $485,000 left then.

During the weeks Thompson aired television commercials leading up to the primary, Daniels blitzed the airwaves with TV and radio ads of his own.

Daniels could be vulnerable due to the sluggish economy and some controversial proposals he’s pushed through, such as statewide daylight saving time and leasing the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign consortium. His first ad is clearly intended to help inoculate himself from such criticisms.

Daniels says in the ad that there are two things he hears regularly from Hoosiers:

“One is, ‘About time, we needed change, glad to see we’re acting on these problems, keep going,'” Daniels says in the ad. “The second set is ‘Not sure about that, didn’t like that idea,’ or maybe just in general, ‘too much, too soon.’ Now I understand that sentiment, I really do.

“We have always said that we knew some of the steps we took wouldn’t be just right, we’d go back and try to improve them, and I don’t expect anybody to agree with all of them – too many,” he says. “But I hope people accept the sincerity of what we are trying to do and are becoming infected with a spirit of optimism.”

On the day after the primary, he began airing two new ads – the 10th and 11th spots so far.

One of them is striking.

It features blaring music, the kind one might hear during an action movie preview at a theater, and bold statements touting what he considers accomplishments seem to fly off the screen at viewers. The statements include “Property taxes cut,” ”Record-breaking road building,” ”800 new child protection workers” and several others before ending with “And we’re just getting started – courage, vision, results.”

The Daniels campaign says he will run TV ads nonstop through November.

Thompson says she doesn’t believe people are buying those commercial messages. But she acknowledges it will take a lot of money to get her message out.

She said she was a strong fund-raiser in Congress and will raise what it takes to win in the fall, and she wasted no time getting started after the primary. She said on the drive from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis the day after the primary, “I probably made 50 phone calls. There were fund-raising calls in the mix.”

State Democratic Chairman Dan Parker noted that there were 1.1 million ballots cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, a number he said “sent a clear signal to Governor Mitch Daniels that the people of Indiana are ready for a new direction.”

But the high turnout was due mostly to the Democratic presidential primary in Indiana, and the votes in the governor’s contest were evenly split between Thompson and Schellinger. Thompson grabbed just enough votes to win.

Thompson says the party will unite behind her, and there is no doubt that many of Schellinger’s backers will. But it was a bitter primary, and it could take some time for the party wounds to heal.

Daniels is not a sure shot, but Thompson is probably right by saying it will take a tough fight to beat him.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.