Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Senate District 30 Race Concludes Tonight

Senate District 30 caucus is tonight, with precinct committeemen who live in the District finally being able to vote for a replacement for the outgoing Sen. Theresa Lubbers who is going to be the new commissioner of higher education.

While some of my fellow Republicans make a good point that Lubbers abandoned conservative principles on some issues, the fact remains that she has been brilliant when it comes to education reform. On virtually every education reform over the past year, she was the leader. This includes charter schools and alternative licensing, much needed education reforms. On the issue of education reform, Lubbers' shoes will be mighty difficult to fill.

Now that she is leaving, it's time to examine the possible replacement. Chris Douglas today announced that he is dropping out. That leaves three candidates, John Ruckleshaus, 50, a former state representative, Scott Schneider, 42, a former member of the Indianapolis City-County Council, and Ryan Vaughn, 31, a current member of the Council. Here are my perceptions of their weaknesses and strength.

John Ruckleshaus

Strength: Incredibly hard worker, very personable. Capable of getting votes of moderate PCs.

Weaknesses: Doesn't have the ideological consistency that attracts passionate support.

Key to Success: Getting more conservative voters to vote for him instead of Schneider.

Scott Schneider

Strengths: Ideological, consistent conservative. Philosophy attracts the most fervent supporters.

Weaknesses: Often portrayed as extreme by opponents, a characterization which has little basis in fact, but could cost him some key votes.

Key to Success: Using the "outsider" v. "insider" issue to get the votes of moderates and independent-minded Republicans who don't want to see Vaughn, the ultimate insider, become state Senator.

Ryan Vaughn

Strengths: Party leadership has been attempting to use the organization to push the Vaughn candidacy; has support of key insiders, including the Mayor, Bob Grand, Tom John and others; undoubtedly several Tom John mummy dummy, non-working PCs will be attending the caucus solely for the purpose of trying to outvote working PCs in the district who might not want to support Vaughn.

Weaknesses: See above. Being the candidate of the insiders has a price and, as Senate District 30 has a history of being independent, that price could be high. Vaughn's age and inexperience will hurt him. The Mayor Ballard letter endorsement letter was not helpful. It was bad enough that it was a form letter and not personalized, apparently they did not have enough sense to NOT send the endorsement letter to the Hamilton County PCs.

Key to Success: Getting close enough on the first ballot to be within striking distance.

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Prediction: I would make Ryan Vaughn a slight underdog to the field, but guess that he'll have a lead after the first round.. Whether Scott Schneider or John Ruckleshaus emerges from the first ballot I don't know. What happens in these caucuses is that, if after the first ballot no one has a majority, the lowest candidate is dropped. The PCs that support the dropped candidate generally go to the candidate and ask for advice on who to vote for on the second ballot. The PCs don't always follow the suggestion, but generally 80% or so will stick together if an endorsement is make. If the PCs are simply released to vote for any candidate, they will not vote en bloc.

I think the Schneider people would overwhelmingly go to Ruckleshaus on the second round. To a lesser degree, I think the Ruckleshaus people would support Schneider on the second round. Bottom line is Vaughn needs to be leading with about 40% on the first ballot for him to get to be able to get the necessary 50% on the second ballot. If he's at 35% after the first round, he might as well plan on staying on the council. The necessary votes aren't coming.

I heard today that Vaughn people claim he is within 5 votes of winning a majority on the first round. That's an old, old slating trick. You try to convince people the race is over so the opponent's supporters stay home. Nobody knows for sure how people are going to vote.

One thing you learn really quickly is that people lie all the time when it comes to who the PCs say they are going to vote for. While Ruckleshaus and Schneider have to be concerned about PCs lying to them, Vaughn has to be even more concerned. Vaughn is the insider candidate supported by party leadership. People, rightly or wrongly, are afraid that publicly supporting someone else instead of Vaughn could have consequences. They are afraid. Given what I've seen with party leaders going after people who don't support what they want, it is a valid concern.

Finally, it should be said that party leaders and Mayor Ballard have put their reputations on the line on this one. Vaughn has to be successful or they will take a substantial hit in credibility. Instead of sitting back and just making sure the election was conducted fairly, Mayor Ballard, Chairman Tom John, Hamilton County resident and Center Area Chairman David Brooks have all become actively involved using their insider clout to try to tip the balance to Vaughn, despite the fact that the party had three other highly qualified candidates to choose from, two of which are, in fact, more qualified than Vaughn. If they lose it will be one more strike against the those running the Marion County GOP organization.

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