The list of party changes is long and was most recently dominated by the Southland, who, after the Great Society Voting Rights Act of 1965, aptly predicted when President Lyndon B. Johnson unleashed an open migration from the Democratic to the Republican party.
The list includes some titanic American figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, John Tower, John Connally, Richard Shelby, Jesse Helms, Phil Gramm, Condoleezza Rice and Rick Perry.
In Indiana, change of party was rare, especially for those who had already started a political career. Statesmen Eric Turner, Frank Newkirk and Barb Engle made the switch, with the first two moving from D to R two decades ago. Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor did the same and will not stand for re-election. In 1940, it was former Democratic executive Wendell Willkie who won the Republican presidential nomination. Prior to beginning his public career, Mike Pence was a Kennedy Democrat before joining the GOP.
In Indiana’s more than 200-year history, only two governors have changed sides. The first was legendary Civil War governor Oliver Perry Morton, who started the 1850s as a Democrat, then as a Free Soiler (thus throwing him out of the DP), then as a Whig, who disbanded and sparked a major migration to the nascent Republican Party .
Morton was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1860, and when Governor Henry Lane nominated himself to the US Senate, Morton rose. The second was Isaac Gray, who won a seat in the Indiana Senate as a Republican in 1868 and then became lieutenant governor and governor as a Democrat in 1876 and 1884.
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So what former Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is openly contemplating — moving to the Democratic Party to run for governor in 2024 — is exceedingly rare.
In an interview with Adam Wren on Importantville last weekend, McCormick appeared politically naïve and said she doesn’t remember who she voted for in her first presidential election. In 2016, when she was the Republican nominee for superintendent, she said she voted for Hillary Clinton for president. She previously recalled “voting for Barack Obama,” stating, “Because I understood the historical implications that that had and it was very, I found it very exciting.”
Wren asked McCormick if it was “crazy” to think she could win an Indiana election as a Democrat.
“Well, I don’t think they can. I know they can,” McCormick said. “And the reason I believe that is because I’ve toured the state. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and again I’m not doing the whole thing, let’s focus on nine counties and hope for the best I’ll focus on 92 counties. I also know that there are many people who haven’t voted in a very long time because they think what the point is; they are not heard. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to get to them, listen to them, and give them an option.”
McCormick was asked about her Republican background and whether that would upset some Democrats.
“That’s a great question,” she replied. “I’m going to get out and run a very professional, very organized, very inclusive race. And I’m confident that, and I can see it already, a lot of Democrats are behind it, they get it. I know it will take a lot of work to convince those who may be skeptical or those who don’t appreciate that I once ran for Republican.”
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who narrated it Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs in December that he was seeking a sixth term as mayor this year and then running for governor in 2024 saw the McCormick interview as naïve.
“I’m glad she’s a part of the party,” McDermott told HPI on Monday. “I want to make that clear. But I think the hardest race for them will be the first. She would be a great candidate in November, but her weakness will be the Democratic primary.”
McDermott said that “most people” remember who their first votes were for president and even for governor. “I think she might feel a little embarrassed about this interview. That exposes them a bit in a Democratic primary. I’m sure she remembers who she voted for, I’m sure she does. Most average voters would remember every president they voted for.”
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When asked about the recent past, when the Hoosier Democrats ran as a “lite conservative” candidate and lost every statewide race since 2014, McDermott said, “I’m moderate. My problem and that of other moderate Democrats…is when we run nationally, someone looks at me and they see Nancy Pelosi. You equate me with Nancy Pelosi and it’s hard to shake that. I couldn’t shake Nancy Pelosi. I couldn’t shake Joe Biden. My problem in my race against Sen. Young was that I had to go on TV to define myself, but I didn’t have the means to the end. Our problem is that the national Democrats in states like Indiana are hurting us. The DNC didn’t send us a penny to compete.”
“It’s not impossible,” McDermott said. “In this Republican primary, they’re going to spend $20 million beating each other up. Whoever emerges as the Democratic candidate during a presidential election year, all the numbers change.”
The columnist is the managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.