(FORT WAYNE) - It's official. District 40 state Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, is running for lieutenant governor alongside gubernatorial candidate John Gregg.
She was nominated to run Saturday afternoon at the Indiana Democratic Party convention in Fort Wayne.
"It's a very humbling experience, it truly is," Simpson said in a phone interview after garnering the nomination. "It was really an incredible experience."
Local Simpson supporters from Monroe and Brown counties made the trip to Fort Wayne, she said. "They created a little demonstration and held up signs. I felt like I was in loving arms." Simpson has represented Bloomington and Ellettsville since 1984 and is the Indiana Senate minority leader.
Simpson, who is up for re-election this year, is vacating her candidacy in order to run with Gregg, leaving her District 40 seat open on the November ballot.
"It was a difficult decision to make to leave the Senate, but I feel it's really important to have people of moderate viewpoints and better represent the people of Indiana, all the people of Indiana," she said. "It just seemed like the right thing to do."
So far, Mark Stoops, president of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, Judy Sharp, Monroe County assessor, and Larry Barker, Monroe County Solid Waste Management District director, have announced they are throwing their hats into the ring to fill Simpson's spot on the ballot. The Indiana Democratic Party will choose a candidate at a caucus, tentatively set for 7 p.m. June 28 in Bloomington City Hall's council chambers.
Simpson said each of the three would be a good member of the state Senate. "And there may be others. I don't know everyone who's interested."
The candidate the caucus selects will face Republican Reid Dallas in the District 40 race this fall.
Gregg and Simpson will be running on a platform of creating jobs, economic development and improving public schools and making higher education more affordable.
"The bigger picture, for me, is that I think politics today, government today ... has become much more divisive, much more partisan than it should be," Simpson said. "It hasn't been a pretty sight lately. And John is committed to changing that."
Indiana Democrats came to the Republican stronghold of Allen County for the party convention, a move reflective of their broader strategy to swing the state's moderate Republican voters to their candidates.
Gregg has not only acknowledged the need to attract moderate Republicans, but also has asked supporters at campaign stops to lobby Republicans they know for support. Gregg closed his speech Saturday at the state convention with an appeal to "Dick Lugar Republicans" he claims have been alienated by the Republican Party.
"They've just been told they're not welcome in their party anymore," he said to loud applause from Democratic activists gathered at the Grand Wayne Center.
Democrats attempted Saturday to paint the state Republican Party as tea party "extremists," while explaining the need for Republican and independent voters to side with them.
Simpson alleged that Republican candidate Mike Pence would drive the state to the "extreme right side of the road."
But with Gov. Mitch Daniels' popularity and the grueling 2010 elections in which Democrats lost control of the House and a pair of seats in the state congressional delegation, it's unclear how well their pleas will work.
Jack Butcher, 75, said the northeast Indiana county has voted Republican all his life and will most likely stay that way. But Evan Bayh - the last Democrat to win a statewide office - was able to swing Republican support his way in 2004, even in strongholds like Allen County, the Fort Wayne resident said.
Indiana Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat said that Democrats may say they're inclusive, but their negative rhetoric is divisive.
"While Republican candidates are idea-driven and taxpayer-focused, Indiana Democrats only seek to tear down, as evidenced by their campaign rhetoric this weekend," he said.
Allen County Republican chairman Steven Shine said voters need to be reminded of the troubles Indiana faced when Democrats held the governor's office. This weekend, the GOP spent $10,000 to run an ad on Fort Wayne stations blasting Democrats for their management of state government from 1987-2005. "I intend to get our message out on the same level they do," Shine said.
The ad revisits an issue from the 2004 campaign - the state Family and Social Services Administration. That part of state government that has suffered under Republican leadership, with newspaper investigations into child deaths across the state and a court battle over Gov. Mitch Daniels' efforts to attempts to privatize delivery of welfare.
Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer says the ad points to another obstacle Democrats must overcome in November: the money advantage Republicans hold in Indiana. "If you can, you put out more twisted truth, you can twist the facts," he said.
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