MERRILLVILLE – If Lake County Democratic Chairman John Buncich has said it once, he’s said it a hundred times. “We can’t take four more years of Mike Pence,” is Buncich’s standard line.
    
With Labor Day just a few days away, Lake County’s once dominant, but still powerful, Democratic Party is ready to launch the two-month campaign leading up to the Nov. 8 election. But, of course, it won’t be Pence who Democrats will be facing. But that doesn’t matter to Buncich, who doubles as county sheriff. “You look at (Eric) Holcomb and you see Pence,” Buncich said of the lieutenant governor who is Pence’s replacement on the ballot for governor. Holcomb, in fact, has vowed to campaign on Pence’s record.
    
The fall campaign will culminate with a late October victory rally at the Greek Hall in Merrillville with some 800 expected to attend. U.S. Senate candidate Evan Bayh, governor candidate John Gregg and the rest of the state ticket will headline the rally.
    
Also this fall across Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, Democrats are planning a massive registration drive hoping to add 10,000 voters to the rolls. Democrats in Northwest Indiana traditionally have relied on its massive labor force to turn out massive pluralities. But that hasn’t been the case over the last decade, as the number of jobs in the steel industry and the building and construction trades have dwindled.
    
Yet, labor remains a force to be reckoned with, said Dan Murchek, the general manager for the Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council. “Labor is energized,” Murchek said a week ago, adding that teachers particularly want change after the Republican attacks on education over the last four years.
    
Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who has suffered the brunt of those attacks, is leading the push for a strong teacher turnout. And to bolster the Lake County and Hispanic turnouts is the candidacy of Lorenzo Arredondo for attorney general. He retired six years ago after several decades as Lake Circuit Court judge. But a recent issue is the one that may be the key that Democrats were seeking.
    
Democrats have pointed out that Republican vice presidential candidate Pence, who remains Indiana governor, has taken time to visit flood-stricken Louisiana and tornado-damaged Kokomo, Indiana, but has failed to personally visit East Chicago in Lake County. Hundreds of East Chicago residents are being forced from their homes because of the discovery of massive amounts of lead in the soil in a section of the city.
    
Pence’s office has said the governor is aware of the situation and has sent his staff to help out.
    
But Pence did find time to take part in the opening of Donald Trump’s Indiana headquarters in Carmel less than a week ago. And, even though Pence never again will be governor, those Fire Mike Pence signs continue to dot the landscape in Northwest Indiana.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.