RICH JAMES: Can McDermott's positives outweigh his negative?

2014-04-23T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Can McDermott's positives outweigh his negative?By Rich James nwitimes.com
April 23, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Can you name the last Indiana governor to hail from Lake County?

I can’t either.

Could it be time for Indiana to elect its first Lake County resident to lead the state? Perhaps.

After all, Indiana showed a different look in 2008 when it backed Barack Obama for president. It was the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won Indiana since 1964.

When it comes time to elect a new governor in 2016, Indiana will have experienced 12 years of ultra-conservative rule under Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence.

And because of the Republican attacks on public education, trade unions and women, Democrats think the fruit will be right for picking in 2016.

The only question is who will lead the party in an effort to oust Pence. While Democrats haven’t anointed a candidate, the picture seems to be coming into focus.

Since Pence was elected, the Democratic future has revolved around Evan Bayh, who served both as governor and U.S. senator.

Some think Bayh could win easily even though he angered thousands of Democrats when he abruptly said in 2010 he was dropping out of elective politics.

Nevertheless, it would be Bayh’s nomination for the asking. While he remains mum, more are saying he isn’t running.

The word also is that House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, of Michigan City, one of the party’s rising stars, is focused on winning back the House.

That leaves a sprinkling of potential candidates, including Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who isn’t talking as he focuses on re-election next year.

Could McDermott be the one to become the first Indiana governor from Lake County? There are reasons why he can and why he can’t

There is only one real negative, and it’s that he is from Lake County, which doesn’t have the best reputation around the state.

There are several reasons why he can win the nomination and the general election.

He has been a pretty good mayor of the state’s fifth largest city.

He has enjoyed support and success as county Democratic chairman.

At 45, he provides a youthful energy the party hasn’t had since Bayh came onto the scene.

He spent six years in the U.S. Navy and is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

He has been a critic of both the Daniels and Pence administrations, saying they have short-changed Lake County in a number of areas, particularly replacement of the Cline Avenue bridge.

He is chairman of the most heavily Democratic and most heavily unionized county in Indiana. And those unions – thanks to Daniels and even more so Pence – seem to be more energized than they have been in more than 30 years.

The question is whether all those positives can overcome that one negative.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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