By Brian Howey
FORT WAYNE – Less than two years after Democrats tried to tag the “war on women” label on Indiana Republicans – with some success – delegates at the GOP Convention here nominated the first all female ticket in state history.
Going before voters in November will be Treasurer nominee Kelly Mitchell, who defeated Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold and Don Bates Jr. in a three-ballot floor fight for the nod last Saturday, along with appointed Secretary of State Connie Lawson and appointed Auditor Suzanne Crouch.
Republican delegates also bade farewell to out-going Treasurer Richard Mourdock who made historical parallels between a bankrupt Weimar Republic that yielded Nazi Germany and the U.S. debt crisis and from Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus a little more than a year after he issued the party autopsy of the 2012 elections in which the GOP lost to President Obama despite a big jobless rate, and failed to regain the U.S. Senate because of failed nominees such as Mourdock.
Mourdock received a standing ovation from the delegates after his emotional speech. The fact that the convention end frame was of Mitchell, Lawson and Crouch arm in arm was a fascinating contrast.
Let’s go back in time to late 2012. The presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the female vote by 5 percent here in Indiana, and Mourdock lost them by 10 percent. In the September Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, Mike Pence was leading women 46-33 percent. In the October survey which was conducted three days after Mourdock’s campaign imploded with his debate comments in which he made comments saying that “God intends” children conceived by rape, Pence and Democrat John Gregg were tied at 42 percent among female voters.
And then came Election Day. Pence barely escaped the charging Gregg with just 49 percent of the vote and less than a 3 percent win and the erosion of support among women voters was tricking. Pence lost the female vote to Gregg 52-47 percent. Republican pollster Christine Matthews, who conducted the polls with Democratic pollster Fred Yang, would observe, “In our final social media analysis, the words ‘rape, pregnancy and abortion’ were prominent for Mourdock, but unfortunately for Mike Pence, they also factored into his image and the perception that he was standing behind Mourdock.”
So Hoosier Republicans may have made inroads with the all-female ticket, with the potential that along with Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann (and Democrat Supt. Glenda Ritz), females could very well hold four of the six state constitutional offices.
But this came just a month after State Reps. Rebecca Kubacki and Kathy Heuer – moderates representing two of the most evangelical districts in the state – lost primary races to conservatives Curt Nisly and Christopher Judy.
This segues into another key building block for what should be an extremely interesting 2016 election cycle. Kubacki and Heuer were targeted by family groups incensed by their votes on HJR-3, the constitutional marriage amendment.
This set up a floor fight over whether to take a platform plank position on marriage. The party opted for plank that included compromise language: “We believe that strong families, based on marriage between a man and a woman, are the foundation of society. We also recognize that some families are much more diverse and we support the blended families, grandparents, guardians and loving adults who successfully raise and nurture children to reach their full potential every day.”
The reason family groups pressed for this plank was that it was omitted in the party’s 2012 platform. Opponents of HJR-3 constantly pointed during the Indiana General Assembly debates last winter to the fact that neither party had taken a plank stance on marriage.
At one point, delegates had to physically stand to defeat two amendments to the platform as well as adopt the entire document. Estimates from Republicans on the stage (as well as my own viewpoint) revealed support by 75 to 80 percent of the delegates.
It was consistent with polling provided by family advocacy groups that claimed “82 percent support” among Republicans. But that contrasted with Howey Politics polling in April 2013 that had the issue split within the margin of error, 50 percent in favor of a constitutional amendment and 46 percent opposed (compared to a 48/45 percent split in the October 2012 Howey/DePauw poll). A Ball State Bowen Institute survey in October 2013 found 57 percent opposing the constitutional amendment and 38 percent supporting.
The danger for Republicans is that cross tabulations among women, younger voters and independents find much opposition to the constitutional marriage amendment. And these are the groups that decide elections. The constitutional amendment forces are vowing to push the issue in 2015 and 2016, potentially placing this volatile issue on the ballot when Gov. Pence seeks reelection in the latter year.
Now, add in the historic and stunning upset of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last Tuesday, with many blaming his waffling on immigration legislation, and you can see a storm brewing.
The stubborn fact is, the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S. and Indiana are Latino voters.
The bottom line: Hoosier Republicans have secured their base. They have a case for gender equality. And they have distinct challenges for the voters who actually decide elections.
The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.