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Delph vs. Republicans a fight for recognition

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Monday, February 24, 2014 - 7:50 am

INDIANAPOLIS — When conservative state Sen. Mike Delph took to Twitter about gay marriage and ultimately lost his formal vestiges of power within the Senate Republican caucus, he gained something far more valuable in the world of politics: "Name ID."

The political lingo stands for public recognition — good, bad, beautiful or ugly, it all matters. Delph reaped it in spades last week, reeling in Statehouse media and Senate Republican leadership to keep him in the public eye.

It started when Delph tweeted angrily about the demise of the gay marriage ban just hours after the Senate decided earlier this month to push back a public vote on the ban until at least 2016. The fracas ended last week, as Senate Republican leaders stripped him of his formal rank within the caucus and moved his seat in the Senate chamber next to the Democrats.

While it might have looked like reckless politicking, the maneuver elevated Delph from a rank-and-file senator to receiving more attention than even Gov. Mike Pence.

But simply getting that acknowledgement is not a guarantee of success — especially if it's highly divisive — said Pete Seat, an Indiana Republican strategist and former Republican Party spokesman.

"Name ID is important because voters need to have familiarity with who you are and what you stand for," he said. "But it's not a guarantee of success. Just because they're familiar with your name doesn't necessarily mean they believe in the same things you stand for."

Take the 2012 gubernatorial race. Candidate John Gregg's advisers often said it was a good thing he wasn't widely known in the state because it allowed them to build an image. But Gregg was late to the advertising game, and found himself washed out not only by his opponent, Pence, but also by a sea of advertising in the U.S. Senate race.

Former Senate candidate Richard Mourdock had little trouble winning a Republican primary against Richard Lugar, in part because of Mourdock's own extensive work on the local fundraising circuit. Mourdock's recognition among the conservative base of voters was extensive, enough to knock out Lugar easily in the Republican primary.

When the general election got underway, Mourdock had little name recognition with the broader populace, something Democrats immediately used to their benefit with a barrage of negative advertising. But by the time Mourdock let slip a statement concerning God, rape and abortion just a couple of weeks before Election Day, his brand had already been defined.

Delph has declined comment about his Twitter battle and the sanctions levied against him by Senate Republicans. But in a Statehouse news conference last week — a rare occurrence for individual state senators — said he was whipping up a media storm in order to protect the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman.

Asked why he was making his arguments on social media and to reporters instead of the Senate chamber, where he was silent during the week of the marriage debate, Delph only said he was respecting the Republican caucus' code of silence about internal debates.

Delph has not said if he has aspirations for higher office. He's filed for re-election to the state Senate this year and missed perhaps his best chance to run for Congress in 2012 after his political mentor, former U.S. Rep. Danny Burton, retired.

But maintaining a strong base of name recognition is not always about winning the current election. It's often good for any future race.