LEBANON, Ind. – Indiana has become, from a functional standpoint, a one-party state. The most conspicuous stats with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s defeat is Republicans control 9 of 11 congressional seats, have super majorities in the General Assembly and all of the Statehouse constitutional offices.

But mine down further is to discover how abjectly out of power Democrats are beyond the big cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Gary, Hammond, Kokomo, Bloomington and Lafayette. On the city front, Democrats control 54 out of 117 city halls. 

At the county level, the impotence is striking. Of 1,399 county posts (these are prior to the Nov. 6 election) - assessor, auditor, clerk, commissioners, councilmembers, recorder, and treasurer - Democrats control just 268 offices, or an anemic 20 percent. Republicans control 1,130. Out of 242 commissioner seats, Democrats have a mere 34. Of 523 council seats Democrats control just 139. They hold just 22 assessor seats, 18 auditors, 20 clerks, 18 recorders and 17 treasurers. The list doesn’t include sheriffs, prosecutors and coroners, but my bet is those offices would present a similar trend.

If you see a Democrat official at a county courthouse, quickly grab your phone and take a photo. Like glaciers and American-made sedans, they are disappearing relics.

I don’t have access to where these statistics stood a decade ago. But we do know that when U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh abruptly quit a reelection bid just before filing deadline in February 2010, there were a number of river counties across southern and western Indiana which would vote Republican for president and governor, but would also send Democrats like Lee Hamilton and Baron Hill to Congress, while county courthouses proved to be enduring Democrat power warrens.

Bayh’s decision to bolt the Senate race commenced a chain reaction that has routed the Democrats out of the two southern Indiana congressional seats it was once competitive (the former Bloody 8th and the 9th, which Reps. Larry Buchson and Trey Hollingworth won in landslide fashion on Nov. 6), all but three Indiana House seats south of U.S. 50, while the party has no state Senate seats south of Bloomington. Beyond former House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, Democrats don’t represent any truly rural districts.

So we have entered a new era of governance that is relying on one party to function and craft policy from the Statehouse to the counties. At this point, Democrats don’t even have active candidates for governor in 2020. Sen. Donnelly would be, perhaps, the strongest potential contender, though there is talk about a third run by John Gregg, or potential bids by former lieutenant governor nominee Christina Hale or Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. Their cards remain close to vest at this writing.

If there’s a historic parallel, it might be in the latter stages of the Great Depression. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was a juggernaut, and Democratic Gov. Paul McNutt reorganized the Statehouse. Democrats would win four out of five gubernatorial elections after the GOP had won five straight following World War I.

It took a future senator, Homer Capehart, to organize what became known as the “Cornfield Conference” on his Daviess County farm in the summer of 1938. Some 20,000 Hoosier Republicans showed up for barbecue and lemonade, and they forged a plan to reassert themselves, with Gov. Ralph Gates election in 1944 leading the GOP to winning the office three out of the next four cycles.

Any party pro will tell you that the party which controls the governor’s office can project down ballot, as the chief executive can develop and employ talent and spread goodies. Or as former Republican chairman Rex Early would put it, the difference between a party with a governor and one without is essentially the difference between ice cream and what Fido leaves in the backyard.

Former Indiana Democrat Chairman Robin Winston is calling for a similar event, something he calls a “Hoosier Homecoming.” He explained, “To be inclusive, expand the base, we need to bring folks together and have a retreat. We need to reassess what went right and what can be improved. We need to figure out priorities.”

Winston said the party needs to be “honest with one another. It’s not just goals, but what the resources behind those goals will be.” We are just weeks away from year end finance reports, but the bet here as that Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and the GOP will have a mammoth financial edge over Democrats. And as Winston puts it, every day a gubernatorial candidate isn’t raising money is a day lost into the ether.

Winston related his effort in the ramp-up to Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s reelection in 2000 to build resources in every county. “What we were trying to do in 1999 was to have at least one elected official in every county,” Winston said. “It didn’t have to be a commissioner. It could be a mayor, so when Frank O’Bannon came to Elkhart, Mayor Jim Perron was there to shake his hand.” Winston said that there “has to be someone on the ground to project the party” in every county.

So Hoosier Democrats face their toughest rebuild in, perhaps, a century, or maybe ever. With new congressional and legislative maps just a little over two years away, they face an unprecedented challenge.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.