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Mike Schmuhl wants to rebuild the Indiana Democratic Party. Here’s how

Importantville, Adam Wren’s newsletter on the intersection of politics, business, and power in Indiana, appears weekly in The Indiana Citizen.

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One of the big Indiana-specific questions following Pete Buttigieg’s $100 million campaign in 2020: What would it mean, if anything, for the future of Hoosier Democrats in barn-red Indiana?

Republicans hold every statewide office, controlling 88 percent of county-level elected offices. Democrats occupy only two of nine congressional districts. Would Buttigieg’s candidacy have any long-term impact on the trajectory of the Indiana Democratic Party?

Today, the answer began to take shape with former staffers announcing big moves to reshape the party, both here and nationally.

  • First, Buttigieg’s former presidential campaign manager Mike Schmuhl announced his candidacy for the Indiana Democratic Party’s chair. He outlined a four-point plan for a new vision for the party: executing a strategic plan to win races; rebuilding the party at the grassroots; bringing more people into the process, including “people of color, people of faith, rural Hoosiers, LGBTQ friends and allies, young people, immigrant communities, and yes, disaffected Republicans”; and “raising resources to be competitive,” including boosting small-dollar donations.
  • Second, Indiana Young Democrats President and former Buttigieg Indiana State Director Arielle Brandy announced a run for Secretary of Young Democrats of America.

At present, Indiana is virtually a one-party state. But some of these moves could presage a more competitive landscape in 2024 or 2028.

In an interview with IMPORTANTVILLE Wednesday, Schmuhl talked about how the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol and President Biden’s selection of Jaime Harrison as Democratic National Committee chairman made him reconsider his decision last year to forego the race.

On the events of Jan. 6: “It did have an impact. I think it was that graphic image and also a combination of Joe Biden’s inauguration and also the selection of Jamie Harrison as DNC chair. In just sort of the macro picture, it really kind of came together, and I think that we’re really at a turning point for our country.”

“And then more locally here, we’re at a turning point, I think, for the state and the party. And I was reflecting over the last few weeks on what I could do to give back. And I initially had declined the role or wasn’t as interested last year, but I was reflecting on my career over the last 10 years and I picked up a lot of skills and connections and things like that and wanted to put them to good use. And I feel as though the state Democratic Party needs a new vision and a new strategy and something for people to believe in.”

On whether he’ll join Twitter, which he has avoided: “I’d say that remains to be seen. I think there are other things that I need to tend to first before I make that move. There are pluses and minuses to being on social media, but first things first, I think, is a strategic plan for our party that’s multi-year, a strong investment that gets people excited and gets people involved in the process.”

On finding a challenger for Sen. Todd Young, if elected: “I’d say it’s a little preliminary for that. I think that we need to have a presence in every corner of Indiana, and that means recruiting the best possible candidates to represent their communities. And that’s one of the things that I’ll be focusing on, from township offices and municipal offices all the way up to the United States Senate and other big offices. We need to have a cohesive approach to it all.”

On bridging progressive Indiana Young Democrats like Arielle Brandy, who endorsed him today, with the party’s more conservative older generation: “I’m honored to have her support and I joke with her and the other Young Democrats that I was a Young Democrat just a couple of years ago. And so I think that I can help unite the different pieces of our party. I think one of the things that I’ve said frequently over the years is, I love campaigns and I love politics because it really bridges generations. It really bridges traditions and heritage and values that the party has with new people who come into the process who have different experiences, can use different techniques, can embrace technology.”

On winning over Republicans: “I think what’s happening on the Republican side is troublesome. I think that right now you have a former Republican President who’s in his second impeachment trial out of office, and you’re starting to see some fractures in the GOP caucus on Capitol Hill. I think that Republicans are really deciding if they’re going to be all in for Trump and Trumpism and fringe conspiracy theories or if they’re going to be the party of Lincoln. That’s a real choice that’s before them, and that’s a big, big challenge. And so I think that once we develop a clearer message and have really, really strong candidates running across the board, I think that we’ll be a clear choice for people regardless of how they voted in the past or how they approach politics now.

Welcome back to IMPORTANTVILLE. I took last week off from the newsletter as I got acquainted with our new son, Clive, who arrived on January 19. It’s been rough—but also a joy—getting used to being the father of two these last few weeks. Thanks for sticking with me in the meantime. Some other news: I’ll be joining Business Insider’s D.C. bureau as a national politics features correspondent later this month.

Here’s the announcement from my new boss and the D.C. bureau chief, Darren Samuelsohn: “Adam Wren will be the D.C. bureau’s politics features reporter. He’s a narrative journalist with more than a decade of experience writing for POLITICO Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Indianapolis Monthly. Adam will be based in Indianapolis and work as Insider’s roving national political correspondent profiling political figures, taking America’s political temperature, and digging into policy with deep dives. Building on nearly three years of coverage of Pete Buttigieg for other outlets, Wren will also continue covering the most visible and prominent Transportation Secretary in history.”

The good news? Nothing will change about this newsletter. I’m excited to continue covering Indiana politics as well as national politics going forward.

AROUND IMPORTANTVILLE

  • President Biden has appointed a Hoosier to his COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force: Tim Putnam of Batesville, president and CEO of Margaret Mary Health, a community hospital. Putnam is a past president of the Indiana Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Association.
  • A group of Noblesville parents is taking issue with Rep. Victoria Spartz’s vote to protect Marjorie Taylor Greene from being stripped of her committee responsibilities: “Noblesville Stands Together is disappointed to once again have to address Congresswoman Victoria Spartz for her continual insensitivity regarding school violence. Our organization is comprised of families affected by the shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in 2018. While in the state legislature, Spartz supported protecting the gun rights of the school shooter over the objections of Noblesville families. Now she’s added insult to injury. Spartz recently spoke on the House floor against holding Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene accountable for her violent, conspiracy-laden rhetoric. Spartz said she will “‘vigorously defend” Greene’s 1st Amendment rights.’

Will anyone primary Sen. Todd Young? 

That’s the biggest question in Hoosier politics right now.

It’s unlikely. Rep. Jim Banks fits the profile of someone who could challenge Young. Banks raised eyebrows recently when he changed his Facebook page title from “Jim Banks for Congress” to “Jim Banks,” telegraphing a possible statewide run. Indiana Democrats tried to drive a wedge between Banks and Young last month, saying in a statement:

While Senator Young appears to finally put his constitutional duties before fringe party ideology, this abrupt pivot will likely cause him the same harm as U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who just yesterday announced his retirement from the Senate in 2022 due largely to the same fringe rhetoric that led to the election of Donald Trump as president. In fact, it appears Congressman Jim Banks also sees this opportunity.

But again, it’s highly unlikely. The two have a good relationship. Banks would have to give up a safe seat in 2022 to do so, and he is currently climbing the ranks in the House of Representatives.

A spokesman for Banks wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Here’s what Young—who has moved to the center in tone in recent weeks— said when asked about a possible challenger: “I’ve got a pretty low pulse, you know, I really don’t worry,” Young told Indiana reporters last week. “I didn’t worry when Evan Bayh entered my race (in 2016). I got a lot of fallback options. So, you know, unlike some career politicians who are wedded to their titles and their positions, I got a good life. I think in the end Hoosiers will judge me by my results, and their expectation of me is that I followed through with my last campaign’s commitments—which is to work with Republicans and Democrats whenever they have good ideas.”

Campaign finance reports filed last week show that Young ended 2020 with $2,378,380 in cash on hand in his campaign committee. This is more than $1 million ahead of where former Sen. Joe Donnelly’s campaign was at this point in the 2018 cycle. In addition, the Young Victory Joint Fundraising committee ended 2020 with $60,599. Senator Young’s affiliated Leadership PACs ended the year with $258,923. That means his total cash on hand is $2,697,902.

Here’s what Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer told me about a possible Young primary: “I haven’t heard of anyone” looking to challenge Young, he said. “I believe that there is very strong support across the state for Todd Young. I would expect that that’ll be evidenced as they roll out endorsements if he chooses to run again. And so I expect a very strong race.”

Hupfer becomes general counsel for RNC

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer is the new general counsel of the Republican National Committee.

“Congratulations to Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer on his unanimous ratification as general counsel of the RNC,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Chairman Hupfer as we head into a crucial midterm election in 2022 while working to ensure free and fair elections across the country.”

What does the general counsel of the RNC do, exactly? “You participate in all of the committees of the RNC. Obviously, the vast majority of the legal work gets conducted by the staff attorneys, and there’s a chief counsel.” The job also includes “dealing with things like the primary process, being involved in that, being involved in the convention process. You know, there’s obviously legal issues that go around those. And then just the day-to-day committee actions of the various RNC members.”

The news is good for Indian Republicans, Hupfer said. “I think certainly some of this reflects upon the strength of the Indiana Republican Party and how successful we’ve been here, and how we’ve conducted our business.”

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

THROWBACK READ: Corbin Hiar, E&E News, “Young and restless: Hoosier on the fast track

Asked about Young’s apparent change of heart, the longest-serving Hoosier senator said, “I’m surprised in a sense, but maybe not entirely given the fact that I’ve run a good number of campaigns in Indiana myself.”

The unlikely path Young took to get across the Capitol — and the shifting stances he’s taken on climate change along the way — suggest to people familiar with the 44-year-old’s political career that he could be an effective and influential senator for any issues or causes he champions. What exactly those will be, however, remain something of a mystery.

IMPORTANTVILLE TAKE: Come for the quotes from the late Sen. Richard Lugar quotes, stay for this physical description of Young: “Young, who looks like a younger, more athletic version of actor William H. Macy… .” (IMPORTANTVILLE contends there is more than a passing resemblance to the billboard lawyer Vaugh Wamsley.) Ahead of his likely re-election announcement in the coming weeks, this is as good as a Young profile as any to reacquaint yourself with the Indiana Senator.

Allisa Walker, New York Magazine: “Dear Secretary Pete: 9 Transportation Projects You Should Consider Right Away

Buttigieg — the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate — is stepping into a role where his policy decisions could very directly improve the health and well-being of virtually every American at a time when the country is recovering from a colossal socioeconomic crisis. It’s an opportunity to deploy initiatives quickly that could not only decrease emissions but also deliver other immediate benefits: reducing traffic deaths, improving air quality, and saving households money. There’s no time to waste, and here are nine game-changing transportation projects Buttigieg could tackle right away.