Battle for House will focus on open seats, freshmen
Monday, July 18, 2011 12:58 PM
This article was originally published in the June 30, 2011 edition of Howey Politics Indiana.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS - The first sequence of the Battle for the Indiana House in the second 21st Century decade will likely take place in 14 open seats, including 10 that were redrawn without an incumbent.
The four seats that include Republican and Democrat incumbents appear to be split - on paper - with two favoring each party, though one of those battles may not happen if State Rep. Peggy Welch decides to seek the 9th CD Democratic nomination.
In the four districts that feature at least two incumbents from a single party, retirements are likely in two of the seats. And sources in both parties tell HPI that State Rep. Chet Dobis is considering a move from HD14, where he would face fellow Democrat Vernon Smith in a heavily African-America district, to the open HD15 seat nearby.
While no final decisions have been made, State Reps. Tom Knollman - placed in HD68 with freshman Republican Jud McMillin - and State Rep. Rich McClain, who will face fellow Republican Don Lehe in the new HD25, are pondering retirement. That would leave a Republican primary showdown between powerful Ways & Means Chairman Jeff Espich and State Rep. Dan Leonard in the new HD 50.
Other potential retirements could include Republican State Rep. Dick Dodge in HD51 and Democrat State Rep. Sheila Klinker in HD27, where she will likely face a strong Republican opponent in a district that leans to the GOP, and in HD86 where State Rep. Ed DeLaney faces a much more potent GOP electorate. Indiana Democratic Chairman Dan Parker told HPI on Wednesday that he expects Klinker and DeLaney to seek reelection,
In addition to Rep. Welch seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. Todd Young, sources tell HPI that State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan - now in a 47 percent Democratic HD97 - is weighing a challenge to State Sen. Brent Waltz.
Mike Gentry, who heads the House Republican Campaign Committee, told HPI that the caucus will focus on the 10 open seats without incumbents while protecting incumbents. Parker said his party will try to pick off seven Republican freshmen.
Gentry cautions Republicans from getting too complacent about the new maps. “In 2002, Democrats lost seats with their new maps,” Gentry said, noting the chamber went from 53/47 in 1998 and 2000 to 51/49 Democrat in 2002. And had State Rep. Jim Atterholt not lost by a handful of votes, the chamber would have been tied at 50/50.
Both Gentry and Parker acknowledged it is far too early to understand what the dynamic will be like 17 months from now. But HPI believes that up to 30 House districts could be in play in either the 2012 primary or general elections.
Here is HPI’s initial and exclusive analysis of the new House battleground seats for the 2012 cycle:
Republican Intra Party Seats
HD25: Republican State Reps. Don Lehe and Rich McClain. Republican sources in Cass County tell HPI that McClain is signaling he will retire instead of taking on Lehe in the GOP primary.
HD68: Republican State Rep. Tom Knollman would face freshman State Rep. Jud McMillin. Knollman has health problems and is at the top of the list of potential retirements. The new HD68 is also much more Republican friendly since many Democratic areas were cut out.
HD50: Ways & Means Chairman Jeff Espich and Republican State Rep. Dan Leonard look like they will have a primary showdown. We give an early edge to Espich in what will likely be a marquee GOP primary race in 2012.
Democratic Intra Party Seat
HD14: State Rep. Chet Dobis is exploring a move into the open HD15, thus avoiding a primary showdown with State Rep. Vernon Smith in a heavily African-American district. The problem is that Dobis has to live in the district for a year before the November 2012 election. So Democrats are looking at overlapping precincts between his current district and the new HD.
Republican vs. Democrat incumbent seats
HD20: Republican State Rep. Tom Dermody was paired with Democrat State Rep. Nancy Dembowski. Sources in both parties say this is a Democratic district that favors Dembowski.
HD45: Republican State Rep. Bruce Borders faces Democratic State Rep. Kreg Battles in what is now a distinctly Democratic district. While Borders is a tough and personable campaigner, Battles will be the early favorite.
HD53: Republican State Rep. Bob Cherry would face Democrat State Rep. Scott Reske in this new district that is distinctly Republican. Indiana Democratic Chairman Parker says that Reske is “keeping all of his options open.” Cherry hasn’t had a tough race in years, while Reske defeated new 5th CD Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer in one of the most expensive races of the 2010 election cycle.
HD60: State Rep. Ralph Foley would be the early favorite in a showdown with Welch, who appears likely to opt into the 9th CD and take on U.S. Rep. Young.
Open Seats, No Incumbents
HD15: The Lake County seat is centered around Schererville and St. Johns. Schererville Town Councilman Hal Slager is positioning for the Republican nomination in what Gentry describes as a “50/50 district.” There is speculation that State Rep. Chet Dobis might move into this district to avoid a primary showdown with Rep. Vernon Smith.
HD11: This is a southern Lake and Porter county district that Republicans see as a “Leans GOP” district. Parker says it will “lean Republican in an off year and will be competitive in a presidential year.” Neither party identified any pending candidacies here.
HD13: The “Cornfield District” takes in part of Newton, Jasper, Benton, Fountain, Montgomery and Tippecanoe counties, all within the Lafayette TV market. Gentry sees it as a “Leans” Republican district. Attica Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Negele, who narrowly lost to State Rep. Dale Grubb in 2010, is expected to run, as well as former Newton Republican Chairman Kyle Conrad. There could also be a primary candidate to emerge from Tippecanoe County. Democrats do not have a candidate to date.
HD17: Coca-Cola executive Francis Ellert, who narrowly lost to Rep. Dembowski in 2010, will run in what is now a “Likely” Republican seat. No Democrats have surfaced yet.
HD24: This is a “Safe” Republican district centered around Zionsville, Westfield and the Village of West Clay. It is home to Republicans such as Recount Commissioner Tom Wheeler, Susan Brooks and Peter Rusthoven. Brooks and Rusthoven would be considered more 5th CD caliber candidates. The recent 5th CD Republican elections appeared to be part of horse trading that brought the chair to Kyle Hupfer. As told to HPI, Hupfer got Boone County backing with a tacit agreement that a Boone County Republican would get the nomination. Currently Boone County doesn’t have a House member.
HD37: This is a “98 percent” Fishers district with a few precincts from Noblesville. Gentry considers it “Safe” Republican but Parker maintains that Fishers is different than the rest of Hamilton County. In the flotsam of the Charlie White case, Parker said that Fishers is home to “corrupt” government and believes a Democrat can compete there. No candidates have surfaced from either party to date.
HD47: This is a Johnson/Morgan County seat and will be “Safe” Republican. Johnson Councilman Josh McCarty is exploring a run.
HD55: This is a Fayette, Rush, Decatur, Franklin and Ripley county seat centered in Connersville and appears to be a “Tossup” district. Cindy Ziemke, who owns restaurants in Oldenburg and Lake Santee, is preparing to run. She ran unsuccessfully in the old HD67 after Rep. Cleo Duncan retired.
HD64: Centered around the Toyota plant in Gibson county with parts of Knox and Pike counties, Gentry sees it as a “Leans Republican” district, but Parker says it could “Lean Democrat in a presidential year.” No candidates have emerged yet.
HD82: This seat is centered around Kendallville in Noble County and includes parts of Elkhart, LaGrange, Whitley and Allen counties. It is considered a “Likely” Republican district. Noble County Young Republican Chairman David Ober, 24, of Albion, has already declared and Denise Lemmon of Kendallville is weighing a run.
Potential Open Seats
HD 5: This is State Rep. Craig Fry’s district. Fry is running for mayor of Mishawaka and thus this seat could open up after the November election if he defeats Mayor Dave Wood. Gentry describes it as a “50/50” district. St. Joseph County Councilman Dale Devon is eying a run. He lost to State Rep. Ryan Dvorak in 2008.
HD34: This is State Rep. Dennis Tyler’s district. He is an early favorite to defeat Republican Muncie Mayor Sharon McShurley in November. It is considered a “Likely Democratic” district.
HD51: This seat could open up if Rep. Dick Dodge decides to retire, which appears likely. Democrat Codie Ross, who lost to Dodge in 2010, is expected to move from Auburn to relocate in the district and run. There likely will be a contested Republican primary if Dodge retires.
HD27: State Rep. Sheila Klinker finds herself in a 53 percent Republican district. Gentry says that Klinker has taken criticism for her part in the Democratic walkout and also will suffer from the sentiment that “she’s been there too long.” HRCC is talking to a “high profile Republican” and Gentry says, “She will have a very tough race.”
HD56: Democrat State Rep. Phil Pflum lost the New Castle portion of his district, which is now centered in Wayne County. Gentry says it is a “Leans Republican” district with Auditor Tim Berry getting 61 percent of the vote there in the 2010 GOP tidal wave. Former Wayne County Sheriff Matt Strittmatter might have been a candidate until he took a job with the Daniels administration.
HD86: This is a Washington Township seat in Indianapolis held by State Rep. Ed DeLaney. It has moved into parts of Pike Township. Gentry describes it as a “52 percent” Republican district, but Parker disagrees, saying that over the past decade it has voted 51 percent Democrat. “That rises in a presidential year,” Parker said. The Democratic chairman expects DeLaney to seek reelection.
HD 97: If Rep. Sullivan opts for a challenge to Sen. Waltz - which we believe is likely - this could pave the way for a comeback by former Republican Rep. Jon Elrod, who defeated 2001 mapmaker Ed Mahern in 2006 before losing to Sullivan in 2008.
Eight freshman Republicans - State Reps. Sue Ellspermann, Wendy McNamara, Ron Bacon, Mike Karickhoff, Kevin Mahan, Rhonda Rhoads, Cindy Kirchhofer and Matt Ubelhor - will be targeted by Indiana Democrats. Parker said that Ellspermann and McNamara will be the “No. 1 targets.” Former State Sen. Bob Dieg is weighing a rematch with McNamara while former Rep. Trent Van Haaften is not expected to run. Parker said that former State Rep. Ron Herrell will not challenge Karickhoff in HD30, and former State Rep. Joe Pearson is not likely to seek a rematch with Mahan. Former State Rep. John Barnes is weighing a rematch with Kirchhofer or a challenge to State Sen. Pat Miller.
HD54: State Rep. Tom Saunders is expected to have a primary challenge from Henry County Councilman Nate Lamar, who had considered a 6th CD run.
HD6: House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer finds himself with most of South Bend’s African-American population in his district. In previous maps it had been split. Republican legislative leaders such as Sens. Robert Garton and Larry Borst lost primary races even though they were considered heavy favorites. This dynamic has not translated - to date - with Indiana Democrats, who have had to endure Bauer as the face of the party, much to the chagrin of mayors.
But Democrats in South Bend are pondering whether Bauer has been there too long. Dobis has described Bauer as “paranoid” and HPI has learned that Bauer’s latest delusion of grandeur was a brief flirtation with a 2012 gubernatorial run. While Bauer has maintained an iron grip on his caucus, there are fissures appearing within. But the greatest threat to his storied, controversial, stacist tenure would be a well-financed Democratic primary battle with a South Bend rising star and President Obama on the ballot