The outcome will affect how the state manages its budget problems, what Gov. Mitch Daniels gets done during the last two years of his term and whether policies previously blocked by Democrats will get renewed life.
And – as if that wasn't enough of a prize – whoever controls the Statehouse next year will also get to draw political maps for the next decade after census numbers are released, having the potential to affect elections through 2020.
With such spoils up for grabs, Republicans have cast a wide net by going hard after numerous seats now held by Democrats. Television ads – including many paid for by Daniels' political action committee – are running across the state, and candidates are hitting the pavement to make their final pushes with days to go.
Republicans make the argument that their party is best equipped to create a balanced, responsible new two-year state budget in 2011. House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Republicans would focus on job creation and fiscal integrity if they win control.
Republicans could also support some issues Daniels has pushed with limited success under Democratic House control, such as expanding charter schools and reducing local government.
“From our perspective, it's whether or not the governor and this administration will continue to have obstructionists they've experienced in the House or whether they'll have somebody willing to work with them,” state GOP Chairman Murray Clark said of the election.
Democratic House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, also has blocked social issues during his time as speaker, including a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage (saying Indiana's state law banning gay marriage works) and bills to crack down on illegal immigration (saying immigration is an issue for the federal government).
“There's been such command and control by Rep. Bauer over the last four years that even measures that were wildly supported – if they didn't meet his personal approval – went to the killing fields,” Bosma said. “That's not how democracy is supposed to work.”
Democrats say their control of the House provides an important check to GOP ideas. Bauer noted in a letter to The Indianapolis Star last month that the lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a private operator was passed in 2006 – when Republicans last controlled the House, Senate and governor's office.
Bauer said Democrats will continue to question and challenge the Daniels administration.
“We will remind everyone that the strides forward that have taken place in recent years – property tax relief and the Healthy Indiana Plan, to name just two – have come when two parties work together,” Bauer wrote. “It has proven to be a better plan than one party – and one man – giving the orders and being accountable to no one.”
Leaders of neither party expect the decades-long Republican control of the state Senate to be threatened. The GOP now has a 33-17 majority – and a gain of one seat would give Republicans a two-thirds majority, allowing them to conduct business even without any Democrats in the chamber.
Republicans need a net gain of three seats to seize control of the House – and likely return Bosma to the speaker's chair.