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Political parties will take statewide battles inside for 2014

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TOM LoBIANCO

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - If Indiana’s 2014 election season ends up being a lot quieter than its 2012 bash, it will be due partly to the parties allowing their top intraparty battles to play out inside the convention halls, instead of on the airwaves.

There will still be a 2014 primary election, but the three statewide races, for auditor, treasurer and secretary of state will be decided at the Democratic and Republican Party conventions -- shedding any of the on-air battling and high-profile vitriol which peppered last year’s Republican Senate primary and leaving the decision to a small group of party delegates.

Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold, who was an Olympic ice skater, became the first declared candidate last week for any of those three offices, kicking off a truly intraparty battle.

It’s still roughly a year until the party picks its ticket, but the campaign is already well under way. Lincoln Day Dinners, annual Republican fundraisers held by the county parties, have been flush with candidates seeking statewide office in 2014, much the way they were in 2011 and 2012, shortly before the last election.

And this cycle they will carry even more import as the battle is moved from the public to the party faithful in the convention hall.

“It is completely different,” Dunn said. “When you look at the limited number of voters you have, it just changes the landscape completely on that. The people you are campaigning for their support are the stalwarts in your party, as a general rule. They’re more politically attuned, they’re more aware of the personalities and the issues on a lot of these things.”

Big names with strong networks and relationships can help lock up a party battle. Seybold jumped out the gate with an impressive list of Republican supporters last week, topped by Bob Grand and Dan Dumezich, the co-chairs of Mitt Romney’s 2012 Indiana campaign and prolific fundraisers.

"A lot of stuff is going on a relationship basis, so what you typically see well in advance of the convention is people out trying to lock up support in terms of endorsements from various party leadership around the state, with the thought that the votes will follow when you do that,” Dunn said.

Sam Bond, former Lawrence County Republican chairman, recalled his work corralling delegates at last year’s convention. The orders come from the party’s top leaders and are filtered down through the ranks, he said, then carried out in smaller meetings of local chairmen and delegates.

“Word will come down to the county chairman of who the governor is looking for and you’ll say ‘I like the governor, I’ll do what he wants’” Bond said. “If I know (a party leader) and say ‘He’s a smart guy, he said this guy’s a pretty good candidate and I should back him,’ and then you back that guy. You look upstream for advice and if you believe in the people upstream, and generally you do, you follow their advice.”

It’s not always a lock for the brass’s picks, however. Dunn remembers the 2008 convention battle for the attorney general nomination between Greg Zoeller and Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas.

Costas had lined up the support of all the party’s major players, including former Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Zoeller beat him with one of the best grassroots campaigns Dunn said he’s ever seen. Zoeller’s retail blitz was highlighted by departing Attorney General Steve Carter knocking on the doors of delegates in the weeks before the nomination.

“You cannot help but be overwhelmed by the job Greg Zoeller did,” Dunn said.

The Democratic field is formally empty, but Democrats gathered for their annual fundraiser Friday, said they expected Marion County Clerk Beth White to seek the secretary of state nomination. Whoever the Democrats tap will likely face Secretary of State Connie Lawson in the general election.

It’s not clear yet whether Seybold will have to launch a similar grassroots blitz to augment his list of endorsements, no one has yet announced a challenge. And no one has jumped in the race yet for auditor (two-term Auditor Tim Berry is term-limited), but Treasurer Richard Mourdock could jump in the race.

Mourdock would enter a convention battle with strong support among delegates, but could face a challenge from a party-backed opponent. It might seem early, and quiet, with more than a year until November 2014, but the party gears are turning as they always are.

 

Posted 6/10/2013