Indiana Republicans are at their historic apex. They control 107 out of 150 General Assembly seats (and almost all of the rural seats), nine out of 11 congressional offices, and all of the Statehouse constitutional positions. The maps drawn in 2011 make Democratic gains (only four seats in the General Assembly) virtually impossible, as we saw in this wave election year.
Beyond the big cities, Republicans hold a majority of city and county offices across the state. With Vice President Mike Pence in office, Hoosiers such as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Medicaid/Medicare’s Seema Verma, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Ted McKinney and Anne Hazlett at the Department of Agriculture control wide swaths of the federal government (Verma and Azar in tandem control 26 percent of the federal budget).
At the political level, freshman U.S. Sen. Todd Young was just selected to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which funds campaigns across the nation. President Donald Trump, though in somewhat mocking fashion the day after the election, asked Pence if he would stay on the GOP ticket in 2020 (Pence agreed).
The verdict of Hoosier voters earlier this month to deny U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly a second term essentially renders Indiana as a one-party state, from a functional standpoint.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer preside over this cascading exhibition of absolute power.
For Hupfer, Mike Braun’s dispatching of Sen. Donnelly was the culmination of a two-year effort that reached across multiple platforms, party entities and campaigns. “Not only did we have good funding, we had early funding where we could really build up that infrastructure over the state for well over a year,” Hupfer said in a Howey Politics Indiana interview.
Asked about Indiana’s evolution into basically a one-party state, Hupfer played it down. “I always go back to athletic analogies and the easiest way to start a downward trend is to think lowly of your opponent,” he said.
What kind of voter outreach were you able to execute and the role that played in the mid-terms? “There were a couple of things that set us apart. First was the team that we have. We’re strong from top to bottom of the ticket. We were strong with the seven congressional candidates, super-majorities held in both the House and Senate,” Hupfer explained. “We had a strong team behind them for voter contacts. We had a program between the Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, the Mike Braun campaign and also the House and Senate campaigns – all were coordinated in a way that hasn’t happened before. Obviously, some significant funding came in from the Republican National Committee where, by the end, we were over 30 paid staff, over 30 interns. We had great data. We were getting good data back from our fieldwork. We made 2.5 million voter contacts. We made calls with connections and voice mails plus doors. It was unprecedented, probably two or three times anything we’ve done before.”
The party trained well over 1,000 volunteers who were out there doing all that work.
When it came time to really flex the muscles, Braun and Hupfer had Trump and Pence at their disposal. Trump came to campaign for Braun four times, was here in Indiana five times, and Vice President Pence was here four or five times for different events and fundraisers.
“He had a big impact, particularly the last two visits,” Hupfer said of Trump’s MAGA rallies at Southport and Fort Wayne in the final days. “They filled two stadiums and had thousands more outside. It was the ultimate icing on the cake, right?”
Will Hupfer stay at the GOP helm heading into Gov. Holcomb’s reelection campaign in 2020? At this point, there is no obvious Democratic challenger.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “It was somewhat unprecedented for Gov. Holcomb to spend three full days on the tour, showed his commitment to the ticket.”
I asked Hupfer, how can you top what you’ve got now? Going back to the early 1980s, we haven’t seen one party this strong. Particularly if you consider that upward of 70 percent of county officeholders are Republican.
“I think if you start going and looking at that, you’re missing the picture,” Hupfer said. “The election results and us holding these offices are the result — not the cause — in the equation. They are the result of well over a decade, 14 or 15 years now, of us moving strong Republican policy. Hoosiers like what they’ve seen from the Republican Party. They see record low employment, a record amount of job creation last year, Gov. Holcomb is on track to exceed that again in 2018. The governor is focused on workforce and the opioid crisis and the progress on those things. I think it’s just a brand that has been built up over time.
“Our focus as a party needs to be not on trying to cling to every single seat in the state, but the next level,” Hupfer said.
In the coming weeks, I'll look at the future prospects of the Indiana Democratic and Libertarian parties.