E.J. Dionne recently wrote about Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, whose re-opening of a collapsed highway in a mere twelve days made news. Dionne was (properly) impressed with Shapiro’s general approach to governing, and the article is interesting, but what leapt out to me was the following:
You’ve got to show up everywhere, and you’ve got to speak to everyone, and you’ve got to speak in plain language and in practical terms,” he told me in an interview last week in the final days of settling a tough state budget fight. He noted that in his 2022 campaign, “I went to counties the Democrats had written off a long time ago and spoke about workforce development and spoke about how we’re going to bring back the economy and talked about it in very tangible, practical ways.”
The emphasis in that paragraph is mine, because in states like Indiana, the biggest problem Democrats face is attitudinal–they’ve “written off” their chances before they even begin.
Here’s an example that still has me steaming–a discussion with my youngest son, a staunchly liberal Democrat who contributes generously to political campaigns. I told him I was enthusiastic about the US Senate candidacy of Marc Carmichael, and suggested he make a contribution. His response: he will send his money to candidates who “have a chance of winning.” He had written off Indiana as a lost cause.
My son isn’t the only presumably “savvy” political observer who begins with that defeatist attitude, and in my view, it is far and away the biggest barrier to Democratic victories in this state. It prevents otherwise intelligent observers from recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. (I have allowed him a rebuttal to my view, which you can read at the end of this post.)
Is Indiana a hard state for Democrats to win? Yes. Does this year offer unusual openings? Absolutely– especially in state-wide races where the GOP’s extreme gerrymandering is irrelevant. (By the way, the Republicans who drew those gerrymandered districts had a problem last time, because rural Indiana is emptying out–they were unable to add to their existing Red districts, and the margins in existing districts were narrower.)
Why do I see an opening for Democrats, especially in the Senate race?
- It’s an open seat–no incumbency advantage.
- Jim Banks will be the Republican nominee. Banks is a culture warrior far, far to the right of even conservative Republicans. His positions–he’s for permit-less carry and banning abortion and he’s a full-throated endorser of Donald Trump– are at odds with positions held by significant majorities of Hoosiers. His attacks on gay children have been ugly and mean-spirited, and his entire focus is on culture war. (He’s basically Indiana’s version of Marjorie Taylor Green.)
- The Democrats have another excellent statewide candidate in Jennifer McCormick, whose gubernatorial campaign is likely to energize the state’s teachers and librarians.
- Carmichael is politically knowledgable and an affable and engaging retail politician.
- Trump–four indictments or no– is likely to be the Republicans’ Presidential nominee.
- The abortion issue has energized women and Red state voters who otherwise don’t turn out–from Kansas to Kentucky to Ohio.
Does any of this guarantee victory? No, of course not.
Carmichael needs to raise enough money to get his message out; he needn’t match the resources that the Club for Growth and other far-Right PACs will give Banks. I think he is on his way to doing that–we’ll see when the next financial reports come out– but the biggest barrier he will face is the self-defeating conviction held by people who agree with him on the issues but believe that a Democratic victory in Indiana is beyond hope–a conviction that ignores the Democrats we’ve previously elected, and shrugs off the fact that the state voted for Obama in 2008.
That defeatist attitude permeates the state: in gerrymandered districts, all too often the party doesn’t even run a candidate. Political pundits routinely characterize campaigns by Democrats as “uphill.” Then we wonder why Democrats have problems with fundraising and turnout.
Democrats need to stop defeating themselves.
First, mom, thanks for letting me respond within the body of your blog. Second, I agree with your core message that we Democrats cannot win if we don’t show up and get out the vote. Everyone should – and I will – vote! Where we differ is on our views of political reality, and where resources can be effectively deployed to maximize Democratic – and Democracy’s – chances of success.
You characterize my attitude as “defeatist” and as the biggest barrier to Democratic victories. Respectfully, the barriers to Democratic victories in Indiana – a poorly-educated electorate, lack of diversity in this State, a fractured media that prevents “our” messages from reaching those who might otherwise agree with us – are more complex and mountainous than my attitude (and that of others like me) can overcome in a single election cycle.
As you note, I DO give to political candidacies I see as viable, even if “underdogs.” In the last election, I gave money to Democratic Senate candidates in Wisconsin, Georgia, and a few others with “close” but winnable races. I also donated to organizations that “get out the vote.” Not all of these candidates won, but their base-line numbers were within a few percentage points, not more than 10 points, below their opponents. With due respect to Marc Carmichael, whom I don’t know but have heard is a great guy, notwithstanding how truly despicable Jim Banks is, I think there is only ONE Democratic candidate with a chance to win the upcoming U.S. Senate race here – Pete Buttigieg – and (sadly) I don’t see him coming back to run that race. (By the way, Mayor Pete, if you do come back to run, I will “max out” to your campaign!)
Unfortunately, in the absence of a high-profile, once-in-a-generation candidate like Pete, I see Democrats’ chances in Indiana through the lens of the Diego Morales/Destiny Wells race for Secretary of State in 2020. The Republican Morales, like Jim Banks, was a despicable, pathetic character: in the months leading up to the 2020 election, Morales – a Trumper and election-denier – was credibly accused of sexual assault, and it was reported that he had been “disciplined” and fired from the very office he was seeking, and had previously committed voter fraud by voting in a county where he lacked residency! The Democratic candidate, Wells, was well-regarded and had generally positive press. Notwithstanding, Morales won the race by more than 10 points. Winning 54% of the vote, he only slightly underperformed Governor Holcomb’s 56% and Trump’s 57%. (While I think Trump being the nominee helps Dems in many places, there’s no evidence yet that it does anything but help Republicans in Indiana. In other words, the Republican “baseline” advantage in Indiana requires more than a “can do” attitude to overcome. It requires a Mayor Pete-level candidacy.) And as for Governor Shapiro’s win in Pennsylvania, the political baseline there (according to Pew Research) is 46% Democrat/39% Republican, while the same source reports the political baselines here are 37% Dem/42% Republican (with 20% no-lean).
Now, I know you see the politics of abortion altering the political landscape (because moderate Republicans join us on this issue). And it is true – to a point. Where abortion is “on the ballot,” the side favoring abortion rights does win (see Ohio, Kansas, and even the State Supreme Court election in Wisconsin). But the data on how General Elections go, when abortion is just one of many issues, doesn’t (yet) tell the same story. And while Dems everywhere need to make it as central an issue as possible, I still see donations to statewide candidates in Indiana akin to buying a lottery ticket – if you don’t play, you can’t win, but the odds are pretty much the same for now (unfortunately).
Finally, I DO truly hope you are right and I am wrong! I would love nothing more than to see Indiana Democrats win the Governorship and the U.S. Senate race here – and while I will vote, I am still going to direct my limited resources to political candidacies which I view as more “winnable,” because we risk losing the entire country, not just Indiana, if Trump and his ilk win otherwise close races elsewhere.
Okay, readers–what say you about this argument?