Should Indiana Democrats vote Republican in the May primary? This group thinks so.

Commuters in I-465 on Indianapolis' northeast side will soon see a head-turning message on a billboard.

"Even Democrats can vote in the Republican primary," it'll read.

The goal: To try to elect more moderate candidates to office in Indiana.

The group behind the messaging campaign, a political action committee called ReCenter Indiana, is acknowledging the electoral reality that in Indiana, a supermajority red state, the next governor (and other statewide offices, for that matter) will most likely be selected in the primary on May 7. Republicans have controlled every statewide elected office since 2019. The last time a Democratic governor was elected was in 2000.

As political polarization has taken hold and Indiana has become more and more red, candidates running in primaries often try to cater to the most conservative, or most liberal, of their party wing. The relatively few people who vote in primaries ― 24% of eligible voters in the last presidential election year ― tend to be the most polarized, active members of a political party.

The group wants to discourage this self-reinforcing cycle of electing more and more extreme ends of the political spectrum. In Indiana, that primarily means asking Democrats to pick moderate, or centrist, Republicans.

"(Candidates) all are trying to vie for the interest of what they know is the most active and engaged voter," PAC president Adrianne Slash, a Republican, said. "Our campaign seeks to find the people who don’t see a reason to participate this time. We want them going into this, we want them pulling a ballot, we want them participating, we want them communicating."

ReCenter Indiana, a political action committee that supports moderate candidates for office, put up this billboard in Merrillville, Indiana, on Broadway just north of the intersection with U.S. 30.
ReCenter Indiana, a political action committee that supports moderate candidates for office, put up this billboard in Merrillville, Indiana, on Broadway just north of the intersection with U.S. 30.

Indiana is a "partially open" primary state, meaning Democratic voters can cross party lines and ask for a Republican ballot, but this can be seen as a form of registering with that party. When Hoosiers register to vote for the first time, they don't declare a party affiliation; voting at the ballot box is Indiana's form of declaring a party affiliation. Crossing party lines in an election is only consequential for voters who may want to run for office.

Three other billboards are up already as part of the $50,000 campaign: one on North Green River Road in Evansville, one on Broadway in Merrillville and another on U.S. 30 in Merrillville. By April 16, drivers on I-465 east will notice this billboard between North Keystone Avenue and Allisonville Road.

They're primarily targeting five races: The governor's race, which has six Republicans vying for the nomination, and five Statehouse districts in central Indiana. The PAC hasn't yet made a decision to endorse a particular candidate in the gubernatorial primary, Slash said.

Election 2024: Here's who is running in the governor's race in Indiana

ReCenter Indiana is a bipartisan PAC related to a nonprofit organization by the same name, which also has a bipartisan board. The groups don't have one party preference; organized in 2022, the PAC has endorsed across party lines, from Republican Sue Finkam for Carmel mayor to Democrat Stephanie Terry for Evansville mayor.

"We don’t care who ultimately wins in the fall, so long as that person is a moderate," said Don Knebel, a Democrat and president of the nonprofit.

Nonetheless, the state Republican Party is interpreting the campaign as a Democrat initiative in disguise.

"It is unfortunate that Democrats in Indiana can't win elections on the merit of their own policies so they have to resort to antics like this," spokesperson Griffin Reid said.

Knebel, a retired lawyer, was a Republican all his life until Donald Trump's rise to prominence. He said he started observing the party's politics devolve into antagonism that devalued compromise.

"There was a time when I thought the Republican party looked up to people like (Sen.) Dick Lugar and (Utah Sen.) Mitt Romney, people like that who stood for bipartisan compromise," he said. "All of a sudden they’re being attacked now as Republicans In Name Only. I just find it appalling where we’ve gotten in this country."

The Indiana legislature has taken actions, or lack of action, that surveys show are out of step with the broader public opinion. Ball State University's 2023 Hoosier Survey, for example, found more than half of respondents support legalizing marijuana for personal use, despite the legislature's disinterest; and that Hoosiers are relatively split on whether abortion should be legal, though the supermajority voted overwhelmingly to ban abortions in Indiana with a few exceptions.

Indiana Democratic Party chair Mike Schmuhl said he admires ReCenter's mission to bring more balance to government, though his definition of balance has more to do with party representation and chipping away at the supermajority.

He doesn't find a "race to the left" as common of a phenomenon among Hoosier Democrats because, in many cases ― like in the governor's race ― the party puts its resources behind one candidate who stands a chance to appeal to a Republican state.

"On our side, you just don’t see as much of that. We know it’s an uphill climb for us in indiana. We know that it’s not a cake walk," Schmuhl said. "We really do have to put in a little bit more effort over a longer period of time to build up a good campaign, build a brand, raise money, to go toe to toe with Republicans."

He's skeptical, though, that this campaign will move the needle in a six-way Republican primary, unless it spends far more money to educate voters.

A presidential primary might at least be the group's best shot at testing it out, given the higher turnout, said University of Indianapolis professor Laura Wilson.

ReCenter's leaders know it's a bit radical. But they think it's worth trying.

"It’s an edgy kind of a campaign," Slash said. "We have to at least try."

Contact IndyStar state government and politics reporter Kayla Dwyer at or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Should Democrats vote Republican in May primary? This group says yes.