Trending conservative in Indiana

Campaign 2012

Already a conservative state, Indiana has grown even more conservative than it was 20 to 25 years ago. And Richard Mourdock's Republican primary win this week over veteran U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar reveals the trend.

Consider also Indiana's congressional delegation. Republican conservatives are likely to wind up with a 7-2 edge over Democrats in the state, a margin they have not enjoyed since 1995. Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly's seat in northern Indiana will likely turn over to a conservative, former state Rep. Jackie Walorski, as Donnelly squares off against Mourdock for the Senate.

Former U.S. attorney Susan Brooks won the Republican primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, with much of the debate about claims over who would be the most effective conservative

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Gov. Mitch Daniels has put less emphasis on social issues, but his results-oriented approach has yielded a whole new landscape in public education: vouchers for private school options for low income families, merit pay for public school teachers, charter school expansion. Those ideas were just dreams for conservative reformers a generation ago.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, already a national conservative leader, is likely to succeed Daniels, who is limited to two terms. Pence will also become a probable presidential candidate if he governs as well as Daniels.

Conservative, by the way, doesn't mean opposition to change. It's an emphasis on free-market economics, small government, and competition in public education, and being pro-life on abortion.

In the state General Assembly, the Senate has been in Republican hands since the 1976 election, but a succession of new Republicans has moved the GOP caucus in both the Senate and House in a free-market and social conservative direction.

One big exception does conflict with this thesis that Indiana is more conservative: Barack Obama carried the state in 2008, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Before Obama, Democrats never carried the state for president except in national landslides.

Chalk it up to Obama's fresh and disciplined campaign of 2008. Add the economic collapse and John McCain's failure to campaign in Indiana at all.

But causes of this general shift to the right include the looming federal deficit, prompting the new Tea Party influence in the electorate.

The Democrats also have indirectly contributed to the conservative shift in Indiana. Unions have declined in the private sector for many years. Moderate Democrat Evan Bayh has quit politics. From 1986 to 2010, he kept his party very competitive in Indiana, in two terms as governor and then two terms in the Senate.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato notes that Bayh's career proves that one person can make a difference in politics in a state. With Bayh's withdrawal, Sabato said, "Indiana is almost a one-party state again."

Sabato has a sober warning, though, for conservatives and Republicans: Political success is dangerous. "A one-party state is not a good thing. It encourages arrogance and corruption, for Republicans and Democrats."

The Bible (Hosea 13:6) offers a similar warning: "When they fed them, they were satisfied. When they were satisfied they became proud. Therefore they forgot me."

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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