By Lesley Weidenbener
U.S. Rep. André Carson looked across a sea of Democrats at the party's state convention on Saturday and issued a challenge: Take back the Indiana Statehouse.
Maybe not this year, he acknowledged to some cautious applause from the crowd. It might take a little time, what with the Republicans holding super majorities in the Indiana House and Senate and all but one of Indiana's statewide elected offices.
But Carson told his fellow Democrats that they can do it. They can nab some of those statewide offices this year, grab the governor's race in 2016 and start nibbling away at that GOP majority in the legislature.
Does that sound unlikely? Yep.
Political observers predict that nationwide, this will be a Republican year. And in Indiana, which already leans to the GOP, the challenge is likely even greater - especially in the legislature where candidates are running for office in districts drawn by GOP majorities.
But for inspiration, Democrats should look no farther than two of the other speakers at their state convention on Saturday.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz won races in 2012 - contests they were expected to lose. Ritz's victory in particular came over a well-funded incumbent - Republican Tony Bennett - who was thought to be invincible.
Ritz became the first Democrat to hold the superintendent's office since 1971.
Donnelly, meanwhile, narrowly defeated Republican Richard Mourdock, who had defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary.
Mourdock, you might remember, did plenty to hurt himself. He said during a debate that God intends pregnancies that occur because of a rape, a comment that reverberated across the nation.
Still, Donnelly and Ritz won thanks to hard work and good campaigns. Ritz said she can "hardly wait for more Democratic support at the local level and the state level."
Carson told Democrats the way to make that happen is to give voters "authenticity."
It's certainly something that has served the grandson of longtime congresswoman Julia Carson well. He introduced his address on Saturday by saying that he's not the smoothest of speakers - something that's frankly no longer at all true - but said he'll always be himself.
He urged Democrats running for offices up and down the ticket to do the same. And he said they should take voters seriously.
"Politicians have to court us, they have to talk to us, they have to engage in us," Carson said.
The congressman's attitude was infectious. And so by the time Mike Boland, the Democratic nominee for treasurer, took the stage the crowd was ready.
He told them 2012 - the year of Ritz and Donnelly - was the party's breakthrough year. He said 2014 will be the "comeback year."
And 2016? "Our landslide year," he said, and the crowd roared.
Will that be tough to achieve? Absolutely. Those 2012 Democratic wins reminded Republicans that they can't take any office for granted. They'll be ready.
Lesley Weidenbener is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.