Now that former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg is out of the 2016 race for Indiana governor, the speculation begins.
Who will the party’s nominee for governor be in 2016?
There are several possibilities — some intriguing. Others are a bit less inspiring to the point that the Democratic Party’s worst critics might refer to them the way Brooklyn fans viewed the Dodgers before they won a championship at Ebbetts Field — “Dem bums.”
First, the $1 million question on anyone’s mind in this discussion is “Will Evan Bayh come back to run?” I don’t know that Bayh knows the answer to that himself right now. If he does, Indiana will be a battleground state in 2016, but this again assumes that Bayh isn’t the No. 2 person on his party’s presidential ballot. If he is, the governor’s race is out of the question. If he runs, Mike Pence will be an underdog no matter what he does in his four years in downtown Indianapolis.
Until the presidential primary and convention scenarios unfold, Indiana Democrats have to proceed with the notion that Bayh will not be a candidate. Sure, he created momentum when he ran for governor in 1988 and 1992, and sure, Frank O’Bannon continued that legacy in 1996 and 2000. But Democrats have to find a new way to gather steam and produce momentum that matters in 2016. Coming up with a ticket that maintains a north/south chemistry in the state would help. But just who is on that ticket anyway?
It’s too early to even handicap the candidates, so let’s take a look at what the party needs: Someone with a plan, a passion for Indiana and no fear of running in a state where most consider Democrats starting out behind even before they start. Here’s some possibilities:
1. Kathy Davis. Let’s not forget Indiana’s first female lieutenant governor. She has extensive background in state government and was closely associated with the recently completed Hoosier Heartland Corridor project. Perhaps one of the best minds involved in state government in the past 20 years.
2. Dr. Woody Myers. Stanford-educated, Oprah-approved and experienced in state government. He lost a crowded primary field for Congress, but that’s no disgrace in the Indianapolis market. Andrew Luck’s Stanford resume hasn’t hurt the Colts, and Myers would add credibility to the ticket if one of the central issues is offering the Affordable Care Act in Indiana. Having a physician on the ticket could be an incredible advantage for Democrats this time.
3. David Johnson. The head of the Biocrossroads Initiative is a Phi Beta Kappa resume with only a run against former Sen. Richard Lugar on his political resume. He may be too far removed from politics at this point to want to run, but if he does, it would put the need for high-wage jobs in this state at the forefront of the campaign. Johnson has been good to Indiana in this regard.
4. Jonathan Weinzapfel. An Evansville mayor doesn’t usually grab headlines in Indianapolis, but he’s had a good record and legislative experience. He might be the southern Indiana part of the ticket, but fundraising would be the greatest challenge.
5. Tony Roswarski. He’s a household name in Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County is a key county for Democrats if they want to win back the Statehouse. Lafayette has been on the uptick under his leadership, which can’t hurt his chances. He’s young enough to serve 16 years in Indianapolis if the party needs him to do it.
6. Greg Goodnight. The Kokomo mayor has multiple terms of experience and has a good comeback story to show for his efforts. He represents the best chance a Kokomo mayor has had to move to Indianapolis since Steve Daily, and maybe a better shot than Daily. After all, he had to run against Bayh.
7. Peter Visclosky. He has more seniority in the Indiana congressional delegation than anyone else in either party since Richard Lugar left. He’s probably nearing retirement from Congress and could probably command a solid hold on northwest Indiana counties that don’t necessarily vote Democratic. With more experience in Washington than Mike Pence, he’s worth considering.
8. Vi Simpson. She’s run for governor, she’s run for lieutenant governor and she’s been one of the state’s best state senators for many years. She was part of the Gregg momentum that nearly pulled off the 2012 campaign and there’s strong name recognition with her. Can she pull it off by herself? That’s the question. If she has a plan, she just might.
9. Joe Hogsett. He’s a former Secretary of State who’s best remembered for beating Bill Hudnut in a marquis race. His resume has added value because of his stint as a U.S. attorney. In Indianapolis, he’s well-known and he knows what it’s like to be in state government in a huge fish bowl. He’s been the No. 3 officeholder and he would have Bayh’s backing.
10. Scott Pelath. If anything, Democrats are going to need a moderate who can carry urban areas and play well in rural Indiana. Pelath, of any legislator, fits the bill.
Pick just about any two of these people, and you have a ticket that could compete in 2016. But elections are hardly ever won on name alone anymore. It will take more than a resume to win. It will take a true party effort that will be as much as a 92-county campaign as Barack Obama’s campaigns involved all 50 states.
Stay tuned. It should be interesting.
Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.