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Top Democrats: We Need A Pence Challenger ASAP

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February 23, 2015 — TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – ‪Indiana Democrats still haven’t found a candidate to challenge Gov. Mike Pence in 2016 – and some of the party’s leaders are frustrated about it.‪

The most likely contenders, including 2012 nominee John Gregg and former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, have been tepid so far, signaling their interest in the race without actually jumping in.

‪But Hill told TheStatehouseFile.com that decisions need to be made “soon and very soon.” And top party officials say the timing is urgent: Pence is locked in a brutal battle over education, and Democrats lack a standard-bearer to make him pay a political price.

“I want someone to step up and take the thing,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. “I’m a little concerned there’s not an obvious, clear name yet and that needs to be rectified sooner rater than later.”

“Time is tight,” acknowledged Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody. “Everyone who has expressed an interest in running knows that.”

The problem isn’t about raising money. Candidates for the 2016 governor’s race aren’t allowed to accept political contributions until the session ends in April.

It’s about the bully pulpit during a time when majority Republicans are pummeling minority Democrats on crucial labor and education issues at the Statehouse. Democrats have so few members they can’t even block a quorum in either legislative chamber and their voices are getting lost in the melee.

Hill said that’s incentive to run.

“I’m very concerned about where Indiana is heading right now. These education fights going on. We’re looking at people who aren’t making a decent wage. Those issues are motivating me to get into the race,” Hill said Friday. “It is becoming more and more clear to me that victory is within a Democrat’s reach.”

Hill, who served five terms in Congress representing Southern Indiana’s 9th District is among a handful of candidates who have either said they’re exploring a run for governor or are thought to be doing so. But none have emerged as a de facto spokesman for the party.

Gregg – who lost to Pence in 2012 by just 3 percentage points and has been traveling the political circuit to keep his options open for 2016 – has tried. He recently defended state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Democrats’ only statewide officeholder, with a column criticizing Republican efforts to strip her of some authority.

“While they can’t undo the results of the actual election, through power grab after power grab they are doing essentially the same thing – and that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous,” Gregg wrote.

Ritz is also a possible candidate, although she’s in just her first term in public office. And so is Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, although he’s on the ballot this year in a bid for reelection to a fourth term.

McDermott said Friday that such talk is flattering but, at 45 years old and children in school, he’s not in a hurry. “I have a lot of elections in front of me,” McDermott said. “I’m not saying no, but I’m not feeling the same urgency that a John Gregg or Baron Hill feels right now.”

McDermott said he’s also less concerned that Democrats find their candidate immediately.

“I don’t mind a primary,” he said. “What’s most important to me is that the Democrat that emerges can win.”

But Pelath said the “whispers” about who might or might not run are concerning and the party needs someone now to capitalize on what he calls Republican overreach. And Pelath said it won’t be him. He’s too busy leading a caucus struggling to be relevant.

“We are dedicated to driving message for the middle class here in our legislative caucus,” he said. But “in order to most effectively do that, we need a clear statewide leader. And I want somebody to look at that goal and tackle it.”

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