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In Indiana GOP chair pick, many considerations balanced

Sunday, July 7, 2013 - 12:32 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — When state Auditor Tim Berry was tapped last week to run the Indiana Republican Party, the public rejoicing among party leaders may have been as much about his popularity as it was about Gov. Mike Pence's answers to some key political questions.

In Berry, Pence made a safe, cautious choice that will leave few party leaders grumbling.

More than Gov. Mitch Daniels, who stood as a unifying leader for a previously diminished party, Pence was faced with bridging divides: splits between pro-business Republicans and social and religious conservatives and a gulf between Marion County leaders and Republicans from Indiana's outlying counties.

By the time those and many other considerations are taken up, Berry looks like a clear choice, said Craig Dunn, 4th District chairman and a member of the party executive committee who will ultimately vote on Berry July 22.

"I think what you do is you pick Tim Berry, who is well-liked by every wing of the party," Dunn said.

Dunn said he didn't see geography playing as much a factor in the decision as it might have in previous years — Berry hails from Fort Wayne — and tabbed him a consensus pick for the party based on his broad popularity and recognition in Republican circles statewide.

Berry, a two-term state auditor, also spent eight years as Indiana treasurer. Along the way, he won broad support in GOP convention halls among party activists and bigwigs to score nominations that ultimately have secured him a statewide office every year since 1998. But Berry has never been strongly identified with either the pro-business party members who worked closely with Daniels, tea partyers aligned more with Treasurer Richard Mourdock or the religious conservatives who built Pence into a national player.

More than a dozen names were floated in Republican circles over the last two weeks, each with various strengths to counter perceived weaknesses in the party. Experienced female candidates had the potential to close the major gender gap that hurt Republicans in 2012, while big-name fundraisers like Bob Grand and former state Rep. Dan Dumezich offered the firepower and connections to keep the party flush with cash heading into the 2014 elections.

But it's sometimes hard to know which candidates are being seriously considered and which are trial balloons. In the hours after Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb announced his departure last month, Mike Gentry, a longtime House Republican campaign director and close ally of House Speaker Brian Bosma, quickly launched an online campaign.

There were others, including Indiana Family Institute President Curt Smith, whose names were floated through Republican publications to gauge insider reactions. But the governor worried that picking Smith might pigeonhole him as a religious conservative, said a top Republican who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because talks with Pence and his team were private.

Other potential top candidates including Anne Hathaway, a veteran national Republican operative, and Fred Klipsch, a prominent businessman and driving force in the education overhaul movement, pulled their names from consideration because of the demands placed on anyone tasked with running the party full time, the Republican source said.

By the time Pence and his inner circle had struck some names from consideration and the candidates themselves had pulled back, Berry was the clear choice.