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INDIANAPOLIS -- After nearly five hours of uncertainty and three separate votes, delegates to Indiana's Republican State Convention nominated Munster native Todd Rokita as the party's candidate for secretary of state.

Rokita, who ran with the endorsement of outgoing Republican Secretary of State Sue Anne Gilroy, will square off in November against Democratic nominee John Fernandez, the mayor of Bloomington.

Rokita secured the nomination on the third ballot, defeating Vanderburgh County Commissioner Richard Mourdock by only 94 votes. In the end, Rokita, the deputy secretary of state, collected 847 votes, or 52 percent, to Mourdock's 753.

Another would-be nominee, Mike Delph, an aide to U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., withdrew from the race after the second ballot, and a fourth challenger, Marion County Coroner John McGoff, was dropped from the ballot after posting a fourth-place showing.

Rokita also entered the race with the backing the Lake County Republican organization.

In accepting the party's nomination, Rokita, a lawyer by profession, said that after a hard-fought battle to select its slate of candidates, Republicans would need to quickly unite to ensure victory in November.

He also issued a warning to Democrats.

"Indiana is a conservative state. Indiana is a Republican state," he said. "Democrats are on mark -- we're coming after you."

Despite a relatively smooth, but lengthy proceeding, the GOP convention was not without a bit of controversy involving the Lake County delegation.

Six of the county's 78 delegates were disqualified by the party's credentials committee, which cited registration irregularities and, in the case of two delegates, their alleged ties to the Democratic Party.

The two delegates were identified as Darlene Burfield and Phyllis Samano, both of Hammond.

Lake County GOP Chairman Roger Chiabai called the decision "a comedy of errors -- and a mistake."

"Those two (delegates) voted Republican in the last primary, but there's some guys on that credentials committee that apparently couldn't take the heat. My people have been disenfranchised," he said.

Chiabai vowed to take his concerns to top party officials.

Earlier, GOP loyalists nominated three incumbent statewide officeholders to seek re-election in November -- state Auditor Connie Nass, Treasurer Tim Berry and Clerk of the Courts Brian Bishop.

State Republican Chairman Jim Kittle, presiding over his first convention, called the GOP slate the embodiment of the "new Republican Party," which already appears to be positioning itself for the 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

Hoosiers "are sick and tired of a state administration that can't even manage a 4 percent drop in revenue without declaring a crisis," Kittle said, referring to Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon and Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan.

The administration's "record of mismanagement," he told delegates, will help turn the political tide toward Republicans.

"It's turning our way from the courthouse to the Statehouse," he said. "The people of Indiana are ready for change. (The O'Bannon administration's) time has come, and now it's time for them to go."

The administration's handling of the state's lingering budget crisis was a major theme resonating through the convention hall.

Republicans, however, avoided a threatened floor fight by agreeing to adopt a resolution sought by the party's more conservative wing opposing any tax increases to solve the state's fiscal problems.

Ironically, the resolution was passed only one day after a Republican-led Senate committee approved a budget bill containing numerous tax increases.

Former GOP gubernatorial candidate David McIntosh, who urged passage of the resolution, said the convention vote sends a message to Hoosiers that Republicans "are against tax increases and higher spending."

Terry Burns can be reached at tburns@howpubs.com or (317) 637-9078.

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