By Suzannah Couch The Statehouse File INDIANAPOLIS – Just two years after Republicans grabbed a 20-seat majority in the Indiana House, the parties are gearing up for an election that could determine whether the GOP can extend that margin so they can meet without Democrats even showing up. Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to reduce or even eliminate the gap, although political watchers say the latter will be nearly impossible. [caption id="attachment_6132" align="alignright" width="309"]
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, has been fighting to retain his position in the Democratic caucus among fears that Republicans could win a enough seats to meet without Democrats present. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, Franklin College Statehouse Bureau.[/caption] Republicans, after all, redrew the House districts last year – a move that comes after every decennial Census – and the new maps are expected to favor their candidates significantly. And the big majority means Republicans also have a big fundraising advantage. Andy Downs, the director of the Mike Downs Center for Politics, said it is too early to tell what the results of the election will be, but he expects Republicans could have a better year than the Democrats. Currently, Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the House chamber. “The common thought is that this is going to be a pretty good year for Republicans,” Downs said. “It might be difficult for the Republicans to gain a super majority in the Indiana House, but they actually have a shot at it right now. But the Democrats also have an opportunity to hold on to all 40 of the seats that they currently hold.” A super majority is when a party holds two-thirds of the seats, which means they can have a quorum to meet even if no members of the other party show up. In the House, that is 67 seats. A quorum-proof majority by either party in the House seemed almost unthinkable just a few years ago as Republicans and Democrats traded slim majorities. But now, Democrats’ concerns about the possibility have become so intense that some are pushing to oust Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, before the election – even though those types of leadership changes typically take place after. Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of three Indiana political and policy newsletters, said the leadership fight could be a problem for Democrats in the House, particularly with fundraising for their caucus and ultimately their campaigns. Feigenbaum said that as minority leader, Bauer is the “point person” who raises money for the caucus campaigns. He said a change in leadership – or indecision about leadership – could cause uncertainty for the Democrats running for House seats. “Uncertainty is not a good thing for candidates who are trying to raise money,” Feigenbaum said. Downs said the Democrats’ losses two years ago are contributing to questions about Bauer. “Additionally, of those 40 incumbents, more than 10 of them chose not to run for office,” Downs said. “When you go from being in the majority to having a challenge to hold on to 40 seats, people begin to question the leadership that is in place.” Redistricting has also created speed bumps for the Democrats on the road to winning seats in the general election. The House Republicans, with the majority, redrew districts this past year and observers say the maps favor their candidates. According to Feigenbaum, the House Democratic candidates can’t rely on a strong top ticket for help, as they have in the past when Evan Bayh, a popular former senator and governor, could bring votes to the Democratic ticket overall. “These people are basically on their own,” Feigenbaum said. But despite the challenges, party officials say they will continue to work hard for November. “We feel very optimistic about our candidates,” Kristen Self, the director of the Democrats’ House campaigns. “They are a great inspiration.” Self said the Democrats have many opportunities to pick up seats. “We’ll run a very aggressive campaign,” she said. Republicans say they also are preparing to run strong campaigns. “It’s a mix of protecting incumbents, focusing on the newly created open seats, but at the same time looking at some of the Democrat incumbents that would be vulnerable,” said Mike Gentry, who directs the Indiana House Republican campaigns. Gentry said all of the open seats in the House – those in which no incumbents are running – are possible pickups for Republicans. But not all districts are in play. In fact, political observers say there are a dozen or so races that will determine the margins between Republican and Democratic seats. [caption id="attachment_6131" align="alignright" width="400"]
Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, listens to testimony at the Statehouse earlier this year. Welch is in a tough battle to retain her redrawn House seat. Photo by Abigail Godwin, The Statehouse File.[/caption] One of them is the battle between Democratic incumbent Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, and GOP challenger Peggy Mayfield. Welch is seeking reelection in a significantly redrawn House District 60. The recent redistricting means the territory includes portions of Morgan County, which Welch has not represented before. Still, Welch said she has enjoyed the change in her district. “I have really loved my time in Morgan County. The people are great, they’re just very warm and hospitable,” Welch said. She’s been spending a significant amount of time at events in Morgan County as she continues to try to be accessible to voters. “Anytime there is an event, you’re going to find me at it,” Welch said. “You’re also going to find me meeting individually with leaders in the community and just folks.” Mayfield is the county clerk for Morgan County. She said she filed to run because she believes she is qualified to represent House District 60. Mayfield said her campaign has been working hard since after the primary elections. “I’m going to work to win,” Mayfield said. As county clerk, Mayfield said the closer the election gets the more some challenges may arise. She said she has to fulfill her duties as clerk for election preparation while also campaigning and making appearances for her own campaign. The candidates don’t plan for the “Peggy Race” to turn heated anytime soon. Welch said she plans to run a “clean campaign,” and Mayfield said there is no animosity between the two candidates. A race in southwest Indiana is also a focus leading to November. The House District 45 race features two incumbents – Reps. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, and Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville – who were drawn into the same district. Battles said the race will be “competitive” but that he’s hopeful. “You certainly never ever overlook anything or anybody,” Battles said.”We tend to be getting a very positive response. Folks have been incredibly supportive so far, particularly in the new part of the district that I’ve not had before.” Battles said he is making sure he is meeting as many people as he can so that they can get to know him, as well making sure the voters know what he stands for. Borders did not return calls seeking comments about the race. Some other potentially game changing, contested races throughout the state include: [caption id="attachment_6133" align="alignright" width="233"]
Republican AJ Feeney-Ruiz is running for an open seat in Indianapolis against Justin Moed, who has worked for Indiana House Democrats.[/caption] House District 97 in Indianapolis: Justin Moed and AJ Feeney-Ruiz Justin Moed is the Democratic candidate who lives in Indianapolis. He worked for the Indiana House Democrats as a senior policy analyst before running for office. AJ Feeney-Ruiz is the Republican candidate. He was previously the deputy chief of staff and spokesman for the Indiana Secretary of State's office. The district is one that is typically represented by Democrats but the GOP has grabbed it in big Republican years. House District 81 in Fort Wayne: Winfield Moses Jr. , Martin Carbaugh and Alex Avery Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, is the Democratic incumbent and a former mayor of Fort Wayne. Moses has represented in the district since 1992 when he was first elected. He is currently a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. His key challenger is Republican Martin Carbaugh, a financial advisor for WestPoint Financial and a member of the Concordia Schools board. Alexander “Alex” Avery is the Libertarian candidate. House District 76: Trent Van Haaften and Wendy McNamara in southwest Indiana Democrat Trent Van Haaften of Mount Vernon held this seat until he left two years ago to run for Congress, a race he lost. Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, then won the House seat. Now, Van Haaften is back to try to reclaim the district. House District 74 in Southern Indiana: Mike Schriefer and Lloyd Arnold Michael “Mike” Schriefer is the Democratic candidate for the Indiana House seat in District 74, which opened up when Rep. Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, was picked to run for lieutenant governor. Schriefer is a retired educator from Spencer County. Republican Lloyd Arnold is a former precinct committeeman in Crawford County and was chosen by party leaders to replace Ellspermann on the GOP ballot. House District 69 in Southeast Indiana: Jim McCormick and Jim Lucas Current Rep. Dave Cheatham, D-North Vernon, decided to not seek re-election this year, leaving the race without an incumbent. Democrat Jim McCormick, who won the Democratic primary in May, worked at Seymour High School and after retirement he wrote political pieces for his local newspaper. Jim Lucas is a Republican from Seymour running against McCormick. Lucas is currently serving his second term on the Seymour City Council and is a member of the Seymour Redevelopment Committee, Board of Directors for the Jackson County Learning Center, and the Seymour Main Street Economic Redevelopment Committee. House District 56 in Eastern Indiana: Phillip Pflum, Dick Hamm and Mark Brim Incumbent Rep. Phillip Pflum, D-Milton, is running for reelection. He was first elected to the House in 2002 and is the ranking minority member on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. He’s facing his third challenge from Republican Dick Hamm of Richmond, who is the co-owner and president of Dove Manufacturing. Mark Brim is the Libertarian candidate and William Atkinson is running as a Republican write-in candidate. House District 19 in Lake County: Shelli VanDenburgh and Ron Johnson Incumbent Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, serves on the Economic Development Committee for the Council of State Governments and is the state director of Women in Government, a national organization of female legislators. She’s facing a challenge from Republican Ron Johnson, who is an instructor at Indiana Wesleyan University in Merrillville. He serves on the advisory board of the Family Research Council and is the pastor at Living Stones Church in Crown Point. House District 12 in Lake County: Mara Candelaria Reardon and Bill Fine Incumbent Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Hammond, is the ranking minority member on the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee. She has been a representative since 2006 when she was first elected. Bill Fine is a lawyer from Highland, who defeated Peter Karagan in the GOP primary in May. House District 15 in Northwest Indiana: Thomas O’Donnell and Harold “Hal” Slager Democrat Thomas O’Donnell and Republican Harold “Hal” Slager are facing off for the open House District 15 seat. O’Donnell is a lawyer and former member of the Lake County Council. Slager is a business manager in marketing and is also involved in real estate. He has been on the Schereville Town Council since 2003. They are fighting to replace Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston, who opted to seek reelection. Suzannah Couch is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.