Monday, June 9, 2014

Assessing the Stunning Upset in the Indiana Treasurer's Race

I am still in shock over what happened at the Indiana Republican Convention this weekend.  No not the vote on the marriage amendment, which was merely a vote to preserve the status quo, and no not the comments by outgoing Treasurer Richard Mourdock which have been deliberately spun to cast a meaning the man never intended.  If any other speaker would have made those comments, it would have been simply treated as an interesting way to illustrate our increasing loss of liberties in this country. But it was Mourdock and some people can't help themselves. They get their jollies out of kicking political corpses.

The real story at the convention was the stunning upset by Kelly Mitchell, the dark horse candidate who currently works in the Treasurer's Office.  While the focus was on the two major candidates in the race, Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold and Richmond financial advisor Don Bates, Mitchell was gaining support.  Seybold had been ripped in the press for his handling of financial affairs in Marion and Bates had been ripped by Seybold surrogates who willing manufactured supposed personal failings to try to cast Bates as being unqualified.  While the Seybold people did drag down Bates, they forgot about Mitchell who benefitted from Bates demise and the fact that 2/3 of the convention goers did not want Seybold.

Seybold, the establishment candidate, who had the support of every key insider in Indiana Republican politics.  He proudly pronounced on his website that his two chairmen were establishment political operatives Bob Grand and Dan Duzemich.  But Seybold has a tin ear for politics.  He did not understand that Grand and Duzemich are disliked by many party regulars and their role in his campaign would have been better off left in the background, not paraded out to mainstream Republicans as a badge of honor - it wasn't.   Despite the overwhelming money advantage Seybold had, he failed to appeal to average Republican party workers.

This race illustrates that there are three major divisions in Indiana politics.  First, you have the Establishment.  The Establishment is loaded with money, but has little popular support.  They claim to be fiscally conservative, but they are anything but.  They believe that the purpose of government is to pick winners and losers in our economic system and if that means raising taxes on working men and women to hand out more business subsidies, so be it.  Think Chamber of Commerce Republicans.

The second group is the Evangicals. Their big issues are social issues.  Same sex marriage, abortion, etc.  They may or may not be fiscal conservatives, but they are definitely socially conservative.  They are a huge group in the Republican Party.

The third group is Tea Party Republicans.  These people are fiscally conservative, populists with a strongly libertarian bent.  They strongly oppose corporate welfare and bigger, more intrusive government. 

The Evangicals and Tea Party Republicans have one thing in common - they detest Establishment Republicans.  What happened Saturday, with Bates damaged, a coalition of Evangicals and Tea Party Republicans simply lined up behind Kelly Mitchell.  It didn't hurt that she was very well organized and a strong, albeit underfunded, candidate.

The convention should send a message to Indiana Republican candidates.  GOP candidates need to have an appeal to the Evangicals and Tea Party folks or they may not have a political future.  As Governor Mike Pence drifts away from his base of Evangical and Tea Party supporters and more toward the Establishment, people like Bob Grand, you wonder if the message of Saturday's convention got through to him.  Pence should easily win renomination in 2016.  But it will be hard for Pence to win the general election without the enthusiastic support of Evangicals and the Tea Party.

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