Buttigieg campaign manager picked to lead Indiana Democrats


INDIANAPOLIS — The manager of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s surprising 2020 presidential campaign now faces the daunting task of rebuilding the Indiana Democratic Party.

Members of the state party’s central committee voted Saturday to elect Mike Schmuhl as the new Indiana Democratic chairman — handing him the reins of an organization that’s lost every statewide election since 2014 and has little influence in much of the state.

Schmuhl was Buttigieg’s mayoral chief of staff and campaign manager before Buttigieg launched his longshot presidential bid in 2019. Buttigieg outperformed expectations, ultimately raising some $100 million as he jumped for a time to the front of the Democratic field, finishing the Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with Sen. Bernie Sanders and then narrowly losing to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary.

Schmuhl said in a statement that Indiana Democrats “are ready for a fresh vision supported by strategic planning, long-term investment, grassroots organizing, and a clear message that offers all Hoosiers a better life, regardless of where they live.”

Schmuhl will replace John Zody, who announced in November he wouldn’t seek reelection to the position he’s held for eight years.

State committee members picked Schmuhl over Tom Wallace of Martinsville, who was an unsuccessful state Senate candidate last year. The committee also elected Schmuhl’s running mate, Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge, as the state party’s vice chair.

Indiana Democrats have suffered several years of devastating election losses and have fallen short with voters even with well-funded campaigns, such as U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s 2018 re-election loss, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg’s unsuccessful 2012 and 2016 campaigns for governor and Evan Bayh’s failed 2016 U.S. Senate comeback bid.

Besides not holding any statewide offices, Democrats hold just 40 of the 150 state legislative seats — nearly all in Indianapolis, northwestern Indiana or the state’s college towns — leaving them largely powerless in the General Assembly.

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