The Washington Post sends its big gun, top national political correspondent Dan Balz, to Indiana to check in on the heavy lift facing Mike Schmuhl. “At this time three years ago, he was trying to help an openly gay mayor from a small Midwestern city become president,” writes Balz. “Today, he’s trying to rebuild the Democratic Party in one of the nation’s reddest Northern states,” where the last time a Democrat was elected statewide was a decade ago. Schmuhl “now leads a somewhat nomadic life, traveling throughout his state trying to generate enthusiasm, attract attention to the Democrats’ priorities, instill a culture of year-round organizing and make the case for his party against a more robust Republican opposition. ‘We’re like the Rolling Stones,’ he said. ‘We’re always going to be on tour.’ ”
He notes “that as in many other Republican-trending states, the county Democratic parties ‘have just been completely decimated. They’re up against the ropes’ …. Any turnaround for Democrats must include the revitalization of the Democratic Party at the local level, a task complicated by the image of a national party that cares less about rural and small-town voters. Schmuhl says one priority is simply to be visible. ‘You’ve got to start to communicate with people, to offer them a choice,’ he said, ‘and so I think showing up is first and foremost,’ ” he adds, citing the successes of former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) (both of whom, ironically, lost their last statewide races).
According to Balz, “Schmuhl sees two possible avenues for Democrats to start to make gains, although neither presents an easy path for success. The first is the possibility that Republicans will swing so far to the right, and so deeply into Donald Trump’s conspiracy politics, that there will be a voter backlash. That hasn’t yet happened in Indiana or, for that matter, in other red states, where GOP legislatures have pushed the envelope with new laws on voting rights, education, abortion and other cultural issues. Schmuhl holds out hope that things could yet turn. ‘Republican domination is a doubleedged sword,’ he said. ‘You can go so far and so you kind of tip over.’ He pointed out that in Indiana this year, about two dozen incumbent Republican legislators, including some committee chairs, face such primary challenges, many from candidates with a Trumpian agenda. ‘I think that every day on their side, it’s really kind of divisions between the far-right kind of MAGA crowd and the establishment Republicans.’ Schmuhl also thinks that Democrats can attract more voters with a bold economic platform, although the party has had limited success trying to win back some of the White voters it has lost in the past two decades. In these areas, the Democrats’ economic message has not been able to trump cultural issues, but Schmuhl plans to keep fighting on that front.”