INDIANAPOLIS — Democrats will have to pick their battles and Republicans will have to continue showing they can lead in order for their respective parties to win in 2016, the state's party chairmen say.
Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry and Democratic Party Chairman John Zody spent an hour last week looking back on the 2014 election results and talking about their plans for 2016 at the Bulen Symposium for American Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Senate Republicans added three seats to their supermajority, gaining a walloping 40-10 advantage, while House Republicans netted two seats to give them a 71-29 edge, the largest in four decades.
In the run-up to Election Day, neither Berry nor Zody foresaw the drubbing that Republicans delivered. Rather than losing seats that both sides saw as vulnerable, Republicans added to their already overwhelming supermajorities, taking out some Democratic stalwarts from Lake County and Terre Haute in the process.
Afterward, it seemed clear that Republicans and conservatives showed up on Election Day, while Democrats and their supporters stayed home. That was reflected in an estimate showing that Indiana had the lowest voter turnout in the nation — 28 percent — compiled by a University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald.
Zody used the example of House Republicans, who were in the minority a little more than a decade ago, and then-House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who would hold news conferences in front of the governor's statehouse office.
"Bosma was in front of the governor's office every other day talking about what (former Democratic Gov.) Frank O'Bannon should be doing differently," Zody said. "We have to be for things, you can't just be against, against, against. And that's a key component of not being whiners."
Being for ideas as opposed to against them is exactly what Republicans did in the past decade as they dug out of a small hole they faced while Democrats held the governor's office for 16 years.
Indiana Republicans, under the leadership of former Gov. Mitch Daniels, built an image as the "Party of Purpose" — a party with an agenda, not simply fighting against ideas. It's the inverse of the national stage, where Democrats succeeded for many years by painting Republicans as the "Party of No" based on their opposition to President Barack Obama.
Berry noted that when Bosma was raising a racket as House minority leader, he had 48 members, just a few shy of the majority and enough to cut deals with conservative Democrats to win priorities. Berry pointed out that the combined House and Senate Democrats — 39 lawmakers — does not even meet the total number of Senate Republicans.
But because Republicans are such a clear and dominant force in Indiana government now, the challenge they face is to keep offering clear goals and ideas, Berry said.
"Now the responsibility, though, is on us, and we're going to have to lead," Berry said.
The 2014 session was a bit of a fluke because Democrats were able to score a major win with moderate Republicans in the gay marriage debate. The 2015 session will be a key test for both sides as they try out their strategies.