IPFW Political Scientist Weighs in on Democrats in Gubernatorial Race

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WOWO): A competitive Democratic primary for governor could be an advantage for the current Republican governor according to one political analyst. 

The entry of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz into the race this week means at least three Democrats will seek the nomination for governor next year. While that ensures a vigorous debate during the primary campaign, it also could be a boon for Governor Pence. “It could be bad for Democrats because they fracture themselves and they give a bunch of evidence and information for Republicans to use against them in November,” said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFW). 

Ritz only decided to get into the race within the last month, insisting that she would seek re-election as superintendent. That changed after this year‘s legislative session which resulted in a law that will eventually remove the superintendent as the automatic chair of the State Board of Education. Many State Board members, Republicans and Democrats, complained that Ritz and her staff stonewalled several times on requests for information, tactics that Ritz equated with an effort by the governor‘s office to essentially take over her department – the governor at the time appointed all the other members of the State Board. 

Downs, however, says Ritz will have to be careful to make sure she does not become a one-issue candidate. “It‘s the only issue she can own. For example, someone from John Gregg‘s camp can say ‘my legislative experience trumps anything (Ritz) has shown us she can do to move an agenda forward,” Downs said. 

The race could also be about the future of the Democratic party in Indiana. Already, the party is struggling with historic minorities in the legislature – only 10 out of the 50 state Senators are Democrats, while Republicans hold a 71-to-29 majority in the House. Ritz is the only Democrat currently holding statewide office. 

On the other hand, Democrats believe Pence is vulnerable due to a low favorability rating in polls taken after the legislative fight over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Pence also beat Gregg by only three-percentage points in 2012 in what otherwise was a strong election year for Republicans. “Democrats will have to answer the question as to what they are looking for. Are they looking for someone who is true to their ideology or someone who is close enough to their ideology who has a chance of winning in the general election,” Downs said. 

In addition to Ritz and Gregg, Sen. Karen Tallian (D, Portage) is also running for governor. Tallian said she got into the race to give Democratic voters a more progressive choice over Gregg, whom she considers too conservative to be a Democrat.