Friday, January 29, 2010

How the Democrats Defeat Mayor Ballard for Re-Election in 2011

In the Spring of 1990, I was teaching a political strategy class at IUPUI. The big campaign that year was a matchup between highly popular Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut and Joe Hogsett, who had been appointed to fill out the term of Evan Bayh when Bayh was elected Governor in 1988.

I gave my class an assignment. Design a strategy in which Hogsett could win the election against Hudnut who then had about a 30 point lead in the polls. What issues would move the electorate?

The students were puzzled by the assignment. Every last one insisted that Hogsett had no chance against Mayor Hudnut. They insisted that Indianapolis was looked up to as a model of success throughout the State and that other cities/towns were envious of Indianapolis and would want its Mayor in a state-wide position. Having lived outside of Indianapolis for years, I knew the students' perception about how Indianapolis is viewed outside of the capital city was dead wrong.

Then I brought up the issue of taxes. During Hudnut's term in office, the county option income tax (COIT) had tripled going from .2% to .6%. (Ah, for the good old days when it was below 1%.) The students said while that was true, Hudnut had no choice but to support the tax increases and that there was a very good explanation behind them. I pulled out a stop watch and asked one of my students to explain the reason for tripling the COIT. The student started to get into lengthy, detailed explanation of how the federal government had turned over several issues back to the cities and eliminated revenue sharing. After 10 seconds - the length of time of a sound bite (the time which the media shows a candidate appearing talking in his or her own words) - I told the student to stop. His time to explain the tax increase was over.

What happened? In the campaign, Hogsett began playing up the anti-Indianapolis sentiment and slammed Hudnut on his tax increases. Hudnut sank like a rock in the polls. Hogsett won re-election 52% to 48% and the right to serve a full-term.

What issues will Democrats use when and if Republican Mayor Greg Ballard runs for re-election? That is a no brainer. Here are the three I see coming down the road:

1) Tax and fee increases
---Imagine footage of Candidate Ballard pledging no new taxes and a roll-back on the Peterson COIT tax increase. The footage freezes and a list of Ballard's proposed tax and fee increases begin scrolling over a frozen, unflattering shot of the Mayor. Republicans think they're going to be able to explain away these tax and fee increase proposals as being necessary or that they won't actually be paid by Indianapolis residents. Great. Let me put the stop watch on that and see how well they do explaining that in 10 seconds. It should be noted that this is an issue that will undercut Ballard with his vitally-important conservative Republican base. Ballard can't afford to lose those voters if he's going to win re-election.

2) Mayor Ballard's Junkets
---I see the Democrats using video from the numerous exotic locales Mayor Ballard's has visited. They will portray him as someone seduced by the perks of the office. Imagine a video with quick shots from Brazil, London, China, Miami, etc. Republicans think they can explain these trips away as being good for economic development or not being paid for with tax dollars. Again, let me get out my stopwatch and see how far they get with that explanation. This is an issue that undercuts Ballard with the populists who worked and voted for him in 2007.

3) Weak or Lack of Leadership
---For two years we have heard how the Mayor has provided weak or non-existent leadership. Several articles have been written on the subject. The Republicans think they can respond by saying that Mayor Ballard is really good with the less glamorous duties of the office - fixing sidewalks, plowing snow, road improvements, holding down crime, etc. While I'm not at all sure the public will believe that - especially that Ballard has excelled at clearing the streets of snow - the fact is the behind-the-scenes work of a Mayor is not what wins elections. True, if you fail to do them, people will vote against you, but people aren't going to vote for you because you do the day-to-day things that are part of the Mayor's job.
To summarize, the issues the Democrats could use against a Mayor Ballard re-election effort are easy and virtually impossible to defend against. Next, I'll talk about a long-shot strategy by which Mayor Ballard could get re-elected.


M Theory said...

Once again, you are right.

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

I'd like to think the short answer is "Run someone".

Cato said...

Doghouse puts on in the 10 ring.

M Theory said...

I think the "Betrayed By Ballard" yard sign campaign won't help him.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Yeah, Mayor Ballard, how about your junkets, on taxpayer expense, and then your raising the taxes?