On the surface, the Indiana Republican Party’s state convention today and Saturday is a political pep rally.
About 1,650 delegates will gather at Grand Wayne Center to reaffirm their conservative principles and nominate candidates for three statewide offices up for election in November.
On another level, the convention is an opportunity for Fort Wayne to show off its downtown and tourist attractions to many people who seldom, if ever, visit the city. This will be the first GOP state convention outside Indianapolis, and local organizers are offering delegates food, music and shuttles to the zoo, the library’s genealogy center, the courthouse, museums and shopping centers.
But at their core, political conventions are where party factions mix, wrangle, cajole and horse-trade over candidates, policies and influence.
This weekend’s gathering of Republicans should indicate how much muscle the tea party has in Indiana. Fresh off defeating two GOP incumbent state lawmakers in the May primary election, the party’s ultra-right wing could be a factor in the treasurer nominee race among establishment Republican Wayne Seybold, tea party candidate Don Bates and Kelly Mitchell, who is trying to appeal to both camps.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes cast after two rounds of balloting Saturday, the third-place finisher will be eliminated, and the top two candidates will advance to another round of voting.
Marion Mayor Seybold could win the first two ballots but face trouble on the third if Bates, a Richmond financial adviser, is eliminated and his voters switch to Mitchell, an Indianapolis resident and aide to term-limited Treasurer and tea party favorite Richard Mourdock.
While each candidate has lined up supporters, I think there is a sizeable number of delegates that still maybe are not finally committed one way or another yet, state GOP Chairman Tim Berry said Thursday afternoon.
The candidates will make speeches when the convention opens late this afternoon. All three have rented hospitality suites tonight at Parkview Field for the GOP’s Fort Fun Night, which will feature the food of six restaurants, the music of four bands and a fireworks display.
That gives them a great opportunity to meet with the delegates up front and close in a relaxed environment, Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine said.
The three-way contest ensures there will be real political drama, Shine said. It adds to the excitement.
Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Auditor Suzanne Crouch will be nominated Saturday in uncontested elections.
Tea party leaders had warned of a possible convention floor fight if delegates don’t adopt a party platform advocating for heterosexual marriages. The Associated Press reported Thursday that other party activists are lobbying delegates to keep such a provision out of the platform.
The proposed platform states, We believe that strong families, based on marriage between a man and a woman, are the foundation of society. We also recognize that some families are much more diverse and we support the blended families, grandparents, guardians and loving adults who successfully raise and nurture children to reach their full potential every day.
Berry, a Fort Wayne native, said the GOP platform committee conducted five hearings around the state that attracted more than 400 Republicans – more participation in this platform process than we’ve ever seen.
There’s diversity of thought within our party, quite frankly, on a lot of issues, he said. And that builds strength within the party, to recognize there are differing views that come together to build one party.
As for possible opposition to the marriage plank, Berry said: Is everyone happy about it? No. A large majority of the platform committee ultimately supported this final product.
Monica Boyer, leader of the tea party group Kosciusko Silent No More, said Thursday in an email that she is satisfied with the marriage plank as drafted.
The proposed platform also states that Republicans strongly believe in our guaranteed freedom of religion, though not the freedom from religion.
The 12-page platform endorses limited government, states’ rights, free trade, immigration reform that does not grant amnesty, school choice for parents, the elimination of the federal estate tax, the continued use of coal as an energy source and the rights of gun owners and the unborn.