INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Republicans hope to solidify their grip on the Statehouse in next month's elections, but the GOP's goal of winning enough House seats to essentially render Democrats irrelevant could prove an elusive target.
House Republicans won a resounding a victory in 2010, picking up 12 seats and control of the chamber. That gave them the numbers needed to pass Republican priorities like divisive right-to-work legislation and create an expansive school voucher program.
But Democrats held on to just enough seats to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to conduct business. They exercised that clout as they walked out for five weeks last year and boycotted sporadically earlier this year in attempts to block the GOP agenda.
The new goal for Republicans is 67, the number of seats needed for a "supermajority," which would allow them to conduct business without the Democrats.
"I think it's possible they could get 67, but I think it's unlikely," said John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute and a veteran watcher of the Statehouse.
Both parties will be dealing with the aftermath of retirements and new boundaries following the GOP-led redistricting.
The retirements of Reps. Dave Cheatham and Dale Grubbs hit Democrats hard in rural areas of southern Indiana. Conservative Democratic Rep. Peggy Welch's district was redrawn to include more Republican voters, leaving her facing a strong challenge from Republican Peggy Mayfield.
In southwest Indiana, Democratic House Minority Whip Kreg Battles was drawn into a race against veteran Republican Rep. Bruce Borders, who's perhaps better known for his work as an Elvis impersonator.
Internal turmoil in the Democratic caucus, which saw its numbers drop from 52 in to 40, led to the summer ouster of longtime leader Patrick Bauer. A coalition of Democrats, led by now-House Minority Leader Linda Lawson, took control of the caucus and the House races in hopes of reclaiming some of the lost ground, especially along the Ohio River.
Rep. Sue Ellspermann's seat, which her Republican colleagues redrew to include more Democratic voters, is a prime target. Ellspermann is now running for lieutenant governor on Republican Mike Pence's ticket.
Democrats also are pinning their hopes on candidates like former Rep. Trent Van Haaften as they look to win back seats they lost in 2010.
It might be enough to block a GOP supermajority, but the days of election-to-election changes in control of the House appear to be over for now.
"I don't think we've seen the last of the Democrats in the House, but they're going to be on the defense for quite some time," Ketzenberger said.
The balance in the state Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 37-13, looks unlikely to change much. The only exceptions appear to be a pair of Senate seats that cover parts of Indianapolis and its suburbs.