Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Politics Behind the Schneider Senate District 30 Win

I write separately to discuss the politics behind the Schneider win.

What happened last night was a shot over the heads of Mayor Greg Ballard, Tom John, Bob Grand, Joe Loftus and every other Republican insider. I am a fiscal and social conservative. Scott Schneider is a fiscal and social conservative. As much as I would like to say Scott Schneider's victory had to do with his conservative credentials and the popularity of them, the fact is this race came down to insider v. outsider. Vaughn had the support of virtually every party insider and the leadership of GOP organization pulling strings for him. Schneider, subtly and cleverly, used that against Vaughn, recognizing that what Vaughn thought were his strengths were actually weaknesses that could be exploited with the precinct committeement (PCs) who make up that district.

I have said that Mayor Ballard is not popular among rank and file Republicans and that there is a lot of populist angst among Republicans who are tired of the elites dominating the GOP. I have also said that Mayor Ballard's biggest problem in re-election is his unpopularity among Republicans. I would think what happened last night has to cause concern on the 25th Floor that Ballard's dissing the populists who supported him in favor of party insiders was a bad political move. I can only think of one other Republican who was as unpopular with the Republican faithful as Ballard is currently and that person is former State Senator Virginia Blankenbaker who ironically used to represent Senate District 30. A friend also noted correctly that former State Senator Bill Soards, defeated by now State Republican Chairman Murray Clark in slating several years ago, was also very unpopular in his own party. But Blankenbaker and Soards were in safe Republican seats. Ballard is not. Ballard can't afford to lose any of his Republican base and still have a chance of winning re-election.

On Facebook, I saw one Republican suggest this victory is evidence that county chairman cannot rig these elections and my allegations about Marion County GOP Chairman Tom John in this regard were false. The person misses the point. Party chairman cannot completely rig these contests. But they can, when they want, directly impact about 20 to 25% of the votes by filling vacancies in precincts with people whose sole job is to attend the caucus and vote the way party leaders want. It is still up to the insider candidate to close the gap by picking up the remaining 25% to 30% of the vote. In other words, party insiders can give a favored candidate a huge lead, but the insider candidate still has to run the race.

Considering Ryan Vaughn had 38 votes, my estimate, after subtracting the mummy dummies, would be he really only had about 13 actual elected or appointed working PCs who voted for him. Either Vaughn wasn't impressing those PCs or he didn't work as hard as Schneider in having personal meetings with them. Someone suggested before the caucus that Vaughn might end up pulling an "Ike Randolph." Randolph was a candidate for state senate who was endorsed by virtually every big name in the party, but failed to work to get the endorsement of the PCs and ward chairman voting in the slating contest. As a result, Mike Delph won the slating and went on to become state senator.

I thought who the candidates chose to introduce them was quite telling. John Ruckleshaus chose Rick Hurst, known for owning the bean factory near Lucas Oil Stadium. I like John Ruckleshaus, but I have to question that choice. I'm sure Hurst is a fine man, but I doubt many in the room even knew Hurst, much less would be influenced by his endorsement. It's surprising that Ruckleshaus, a political professional, would make that mistake.

At least Ruckleshaus chose a neutral choice to endorse him. Ryan Vaughn picked someone who may have actually hurt his chances. Vaughn chose Councilor Mike McQuillen, who represents not Washington Township, but Lawrence Township. Unlike Washington Township which has shown considerable independence, especially in Senate District 30, Lawrence has long been dominated by powerful township chairman who have historically greatly influenced which elected officials come out of the township. I do not know for sure that McQuillen is an "insider" but he certainly gives every appearance of being one on the council and I believe was perceived that way by the SD 30 caucus. He was a very poor choice to introduce Vaughn. McQuillen would not have influenced a single vote in that room and, if anything, could have cost Vaughn votes.

Scott Schneider chose popular State Representative Cindy Noe. Rep. Noe represents much of the area, and was even rumored as a possible candidate to replace Senator Theresa Lubbers in the district. She is conservative, considered to be someone who is an insider, and has a close relationship with many PCs in the district. She was the perfect choice to give the endorsement speech.

Schneider's use of the lobbyist angle against Vaughn and Ruckleshaus was brilliant. It played into all the concerns the PCs have about domination of the GOP by elitists. It allowed Schneider to play his ace card - his outsider status - without too directly attacking Ruckleshaus and Vaughn.

In my post before the caucus, I made note of the fact that people lie to you at these caucuses when they are asked who they will vote for. You have to take that into consideration when counting votes. I also cautioned that people would lie to Ryan Vaughn the most because of fears of retaliation many in the organization have if they appear to openly support an opponent of his after he had been endorsed by party elites. One of Abdul's "tweets" indicated that the Vaughn people had 50 votes pledged to put Vaughn over the top in the 99 member caucus. Obviously people were lying to the Vaughn people.

Don't overlook the fact that Vaughn's youth would have also hurt him with many PCs. I remember early in my career running for slating for Pike Township judge. I finished second to Mike Keele who is now a Superior Court judge, and a fine one I might add. I remember a PC telling me that Keele won because he was more experienced. I was dumbfounded because I actually had a lot more litigation experience than Keele and had touted that fact during the speecheds. But I was younger, about 30 at the time, and people saw the youth and automatically assumed inexperienced. People saw Keele, several years older, and automatically assumed he was more experienced. Someone said men need gray hair to be taken seriously as a political candidate. There is a lot of truth to that.

I will toot my own horn a bit. I posted before the election that if Vaughn is only at about 35% (which translate into almost exactly 35 votes since there were 99 people voting) of the vote after the first ballot, he's in trouble and should count on going back to the council. He had 37 votes. My point was that Ruckleshaus and Schneider were drawing from the same anti-insider pool of voters and that once one of them got knocked out that person's voters would move over to the other candidate. That's exactly what happened when Schneider picked up all 12 of the Ruckleshaus voters on the second ballot.

The Mayor's letter was a huge blunder. First, as noted above, the Mayor is simply not popular among rank and file Republicans. Second, people in the organization view letters like that as being told who to vote for. PCs, especially in that Senate District, which has a history of independence, would rebel at that. Third, they didn't even bother to spend a few extra minutes personalizing the letter by using a mail merge and instead sent it out as a form letter, which would irritate many PCs who want expect a more personal approach. Fourth, apparently they did not have enough sense to NOT send the letter to the Hamilton County PCs. People who live in Carmel are not going to be influenced by who the Mayor of Indianapolis endorses and, in fact, may cause them to vote against Vaughn. I'm glad they did the letter though. Now I have a fresh example of bad political strategy that I can use when teaching my political science class at the University of Indianapolis.

All in all, an interesting day.


jabberdoodle said...

Would you expect the same outcome if it had been a special election (primary in this hypothetical situation) and it was the Republican voters who had the say?

Ed Coleman said...

I can't begin to express my pleasure at Scott's win. I definitely think that the best man won last night. I have great respect for Scott and know he will be his own man and represent his constituents over the special interests. He may not be popular amongst the Republican insiders, but last night proves their days are numbered.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Jabber, I think Scott would have trounced Ryan Vaughn in a special election. The Schneider name is very well-known on the northside. Their best chance was an insider controlled election. And they still lost that.

Greg said...

I think the election last night was a confirmation that the old socially conservative guard still runs the Republican Party. Ryan Vaughn was well qualified for the position but he got beat by a number of older PCs who thought he was too "young" to be a State Senator. Schneider is just another social conservative who does not necessarily represent the large majority of young Republican voters.

Carlos F. Lam said...

Greg, question: since when does the "old socially conservative guard" run the Marion County GOP? Tom John, David Brooks et al can hardly be classified as social conservatives. True, there may be a number of social conservatives clustered in SD30, but SD30 isn't the entire Marion County GOP.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Not only that, SD 30 has slated plenty of socially moderate Republicans in the past. Catholics is completely correct

That election had everything to do with Ryan Vaugh being an insider, establishment candidate which is not a popular thing to be in that district.

Carlos F. Lam said...

Good point, Paul. Virginia Blankenbaker and Theresa Lubbers both represented SD30, neither of which can be called a "social conservative." As much as we like to think that ideology is what rules during caucuses and slating, oftentimes that's not the case. Committeemen make up their own minds for their own reasons, often having little to do with ideology. It's taken me 16 years in multiple GOP organizations to finally understand this fact.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Catholics, you are absolutely correct. Alliances in the Marion County GOP rarely are baded on political ideology. I'm sure that Scott corralled plenty of conservative PCs. But he had a hook for the moderate PCs, and that was that he was not an insider and was an anti-establishment candidate. He used the "lobbyist" issue beautifully to make that point.

Greg said...

First, I never said that the Marion County GOP was run this way, what I said is the old guard of the party is, including Hamilton County. It isnt just Marion County that exhibits these characteristics. Secondly, Tom John totally sat on the sidelines of this election. He did not pressure PCs one iota to vote for Vaughn. Thirdly, I am not sure how many PC meetings you sat in on, but if the vote were segregated by age, I would bet that Schneider won 95% of the vote of those PC who were 40 or over. T