GOP shopping for mayoral candidate

State Sen. Jim Merritt
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Another Indianapolis Republican has said "no" to running for mayor.

State Sen. Jim Merritt says he's flattered, but too focused on the upcoming legislative session to take on a mayoral campaign.

With slating next month, the party still has no clear front-runner to replace Greg Ballard next year while presumed Democratic nominee Joe Hogsett has gotten a big head start on fundraising.

Marion County Republican Chairman Kyle Walker acknowledged the challenges of fielding a candidate.

"These are always tough races," Walker said, adding while Hogsett "is formidable, he's ultimately a beatable candidate."

But Walker's job became tougher with Merritt bowing out of a run.

"It's one of those things. I have responsibilities [at the Statehouse] and it's a tight time frame," Merritt said.

He was one of the seasoned veterans Republicans hoped would run. Former legislator Murray Clark was another.

Merritt said he still might run, but for a different office.

"I do have ambitions to run for higher office," he said confirming he wants to run for governor "when the spot comes opens."

That'd be in 2016, should Republican Governor Mike Pence decide not to run, or in 2020 when term limits prevent him from seeking a third term.

Walker is outwardly optimistic.

"There's still plenty of time to build a campaign," he said. "I'm excited about some folks on the horizon and I think in the next few weeks, we'll have more clarity who that candidate will be."

Former legislator and lieutenant governor John Mutz knows about running for office.

"You have to have fire in the belly to go out and do it every day, to raise the money and spend time away from your family," he said.

Mutz said he's not surprised fellow Republicans haven't yet fielded a mayoral candidate, "because the demographics of the county scare people experienced in politics away."

Marion County has become increasingly Democratic with Democrats sweeping all countywide seats in November.

"We need a guy like Greg Ballard who didn't know what a tough go it was eight years ago, and surprised everyone," Mutz said.

Ballard ran on a shoestring budget, upsetting incumbent Democrat Mayor Bart Peterson, who got swept up in the property tax revolt during the summer of 2007. Ballard won re-election four years later, beating Democrat Melina Kennedy in the most expensive mayoral race in Indianapolis history.

The candidate facing Hogsett will need to raise several million dollars, and the clock is ticking.

As Merritt said, "We are starting late."

One potential GOP candidate is willing to fund a big chunk of his own campaign. Former City County Councilor Scott Keller said he's prepared to kick in $4 million if the party nominates him to run for mayor.

Hearing that, Mutz said, "You don't find someone like Scott very often who might do this. I would be impressed if he did...It's a campaign manager's dream."

Keller said he brings a lot to the table.

"For 36 years, I've been heavily involved in the politics, culture and development of downtown," he said. "I care a lot about the city and I'm particularly passionate about [addressing] the crime issue."

But Keller also said he was "not interested in a primary fight," and would only run if backed by the party.

Walker said slating would take place the last weekend in January with the campaign off and running.