On Saturday, the Indiana Democratic Party chose a South Bend native as its new state chairman: Mike Schmuhl, who managed both the mayoral and presidential campaigns of his childhood friend, Pete Buttigieg.
Party officials voted to choose Schmuhl to the four-year term, a full-time paid role, at a meeting of their party’s state central committee.
It marks the first time someone from South Bend has led the state party since former mayor Jerry Miller in the 1970s.
Schmuhl, 38, replaces state party Chairman, and Martinsville native, John Zody, who announced in November that he wouldn’t seek reelection to the position that he’d held for eight years through devastating election losses for the party.
One of the two other candidates for the post, Trish Whitcomb, withdrew her bid Monday after her son died unexpectedly last Sunday. She’d said in a statement that she couldn’t continue her candidacy following the “unimaginable loss.” Whitcomb was the manager of Democrat Glena Ritz’s successful 2012 campaign for state school superintendent and was the daughter of former Republican Gov. Ed Whitcomb.
The other challenger for state party chair was former Morgan County Democratic Chairman Tom Wallace of Martinsville, who ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat last year.
The party also elected Schmuhl’s running mate, Myla Eldridge, as co-chair. She was elected Marion County clerk in 2014 and 2018. She is described as the first Black clerk in Marion County and an advocate for voting rights and fair elections in Indiana.
In this non-election year, Schmuhl said Saturday that he’ll focus on hiring his own staff, building party resources for the years ahead and “partnering with Democrats around the state … so we can win again.” He expects to renew energy in the party since, also on Saturday, the party decided to hold its statewide convention in person in Indianapolis in 2022.
He also said Democrats also plan to debate Republicans on any redistricting efforts that might cause districts to favor the GOP.
A month ago, Schmuhl said that the biggest reason he was running was to “reimagine the future of the Democratic Party,” noting that he wants to start from a “blank canvas” and employ the sorts of technology and social media that he used in Buttigieg’s presidential run.
“We have had tilted governance for a while,” he said in February. “We are at a turning point for both our party and our state. The Indiana Democratic Party needs a fresh vision and a strategic plan to start winning again to improve the lives of Hoosiers in every part and corner of our state.”
In 2010, Schmuhl had managed Congressman Joe Donnelly’s successful re-election campaign. Then, after Schmuhl helped Buttigieg become South Bend’s mayor, he served as chief of staff. He also advised the Congressional campaigns of Shelli Yoder in Bloomington (Indiana’s District 9) in 2016 and of Mel Hall for Donnelly’s former District 2 seat in 2018, both of whom lost.
Schmuhl said he’ll continue working as a director for Heartland Ventures, a small venture capital firm in South Bend. He has also pledged, with a business partner, to refurbish and reopen Joe’s Bar and its traditional pierogies on Dunham Street in South Bend.
“Democrats across our state 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 said in a statement from the party.
Also Saturday, the party elected Rick Sutton as secretary and Henry Fernandez as treasurer.
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