Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reviewing Indianapolis' Political Races

Since we just finished Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of the campaign season, I thought I would offer some thoughts on the political season before us:
  • Some of the Mayor Ballard spinmeisters are suggesting that the tepidly "negative" commercials from Melina Kennedy's campaign suggest the polls show her far behind and she is "desperate."  Nonsense.  Undoubtedly she's behind (as is expected at this point), but any election involving an incumbent mayor requires the challenger to state why the incumbent shouldn't be re-election.  I'm frankly surprised given the ammunition Ballard has handed the D's over the past 3 1/2 years, that she has not gone more negative.
  • I am not sold on the the Kennedy strategy of leading with education.  While I actually believe in the importance of the Mayor using the bully pulpit to push education reform, I also think education is one of the Ballard's stronger areas.  I can only assume the Kennedy camp has some polling that suggest that Ballard is weak on education.  Personally I would be attacking Ballard's raising of taxes and fees, his misplaced priorities, unbridled corporate welfare, and crime.
  • I found it amusing that the Ballard spinmeisters tried to say that the vote of the local Fraternal Order of Police was rigged by Democratic Sheriff John Layton when the FOP endorsed Kennedy over Ballard.  If true, Layton is the worst vote rigger in history.  Of the 26 council candidates endorsed, the FOP endorsed 19 Republicans.  The FOP has endorsed Republicans in at least the last three mayoral elections and one blogger says the organization has not endorsed a Democrat mayoral candidate in the last 50 years, which may be true.  The loss of support of the FOP is a major blow to the Ballard campaign, a clear repudiation of the Mayor's mystifying support of Public Safety Director Frank Straub.
  • The Ballard campaign did do something smart though by announcing the Spencer Moore "endorsement" at the same time of the FOP endorsement of Kennedy.   While the two endorsements are not even comparable, the media gave the  endorsements equal play. Finally a smart political move from the Ballard campaign.
  • The second Ballard commercial was nearly a duplicate of his mediocre first commercial.  Again, there was the strange decision to use Ballard as the voice over person. Again, there was the problem of the constantly changing images...I counted over 35 different video shots in the 30 second commercial.  Watching the commercial leaves one's head spinning and no more informed.  Again, the decision is made to tackle multiple issues in the spot.  The Ballard media strategy is...well actually I don't think the campaign has a media strategy.  Kennedy's commercials are much more focused, use a professional announcer, and are much more visually appealing because it gives the viewers time to focus on what appears on the screen.
  • It will be interesting to see how the CIB budget containing the Pacer $10 million annual gift is played politically.  I think Ballard will push for it strongly, oblivious to the fact that 80% of Indy residents do not want their tax money to go to the Pacers. Ballard will likely ask the Republicans to fall on their sword during the vote, which virtually all will do so  But for Kennedy and the council Democrats, it will present a deja vu opportunity of forcing the Republicans to take a highly unpopular vote right before the election.  The question will be whether Kennedy and the Council Democrats will want to go against the Simons family who historically have put their money and support behind local Democrats.  My guess is Kennedy and Company will split the difference, point to the NBA lockout (which I doubt will be settled by the council budget vote set for October 7th) and suggest that the council not even consider giving the $10 million until the labor dispute is settled. 
  • Expect a media poll to be released in the next couple weeks. I anticipate that it will show Kennedy trailing 15-20 points.  If it's less than 15, Ballard is in trouble. If it's more than 20 points, Kennedy needs to turn on the afterburners. 
  • One thing I learned in local politics is that African-Americans poll much more independently than they vote.  Given that fact and Marion County Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy's expertise at getting turnout, I think Ballard needs to be up by 6-7 points in the polls on Election Day to have confidence he'll win.
  • Speaking of the African-American vote, the Ballard strategy at getting that community's vote is to pass out as many minority contracts as possible.  I don't know what bizzaro world the Ballard political people live in that they think this strategy actually resonates outside of the narrow group of people who actually benefit from such contracts.  I had a prominent black Republican complain about the failure of Ballard campaign to reach out on a personal level to members of the African-American community.  I think that is accurate.  My perception is that for African-Americans voting is much more personal than it is for white voters.  While a good media strategy might work to persuade white voters, I don't think it nearly is as persuasive in the black community.
  • I have upped the odds of Ballard winning re-election from 25% to 30% mostly because thus far Kennedy has not given votes much of a reason to not vote for Ballard (although there are plenty of reasons.)  I just do not believe Ballard is vulnerable on education.
  • I have lowered the odds of Republicans retaining control of the council from 20% to 15%.  Looking at thenumbers in the district, there are about 10 or 11 Republican council members in districts that have 40% Democratic baselines.  Three have majority Democratic baselines - Scales, McQuillen and McHenry.  At 60% Democrat, McHenry is as good as gone, especially given her votes for the unpopular Ballard policies.  Meanwhile the D's have just one councilor, Dane Mahern, who is vulnerable.  While some may say that Republican Susan Blair has a shot in my district, District 1, if the Republicans didn't win it in 2007 when the stars were aligned, they're unlikely to win it this year, especially since it has drifted even more Democratic.
  • As far as the at-large races go, I don't expect the Republicans to win any of the four seats even if Ballard wins.  Ballard and Republicans council candidates benefited from a very unusual turnout in 2007.  Don't expect the same in 2011. While an incumbent Mayor Ballard could get D's to cross over for him to offset the Democratic advantage in the county, the at-large candidates are stuck running on the minority Republican base.  They are all going down.
  • Political Strategy 101 is that party leaders take the leash off of their party's candidates who are in unfavorable baseline districts so those candidates can they get the cross-over vote necessary to win.   Expressing independence on key issues is the way those candidates can win.  The Ballard campaign and County GOP Chairman Kyle Walker have jettisoned this strategy in favor of one demanding that Republican council candidates, regardless of their districts, sign on to the Ballard agenda 100%.  Even candidates who are in 25% Republican districts are endorsing all of the Ballard agenda.  The sad thing is that those council candidates do not understand that that strategy makes it politically impossible to win their district.   They have been indoctrinated into the false belief that if the Ballard ship floats come Election Day, so will theirs. Doesn't work like that.
Enough for now.


CircleCityScribe said...

Expect to see Eva Talley-Sanders as the next Director of Public Safety and Scott Robinette as Police Chief if Melina Kennedy gets the Mayor's office.....

-And heaven help us all!

Paul K. Ogden said...

As opposed to the current disaster of Mr. Frank Straub? We couldn't do any worse.

Jon said...

Paul, any comments on Tully's column today?

Can Tully get any more obsequious?

"Either one likely would do a fine job of managing the city between now and 2015. Ballard has a solid first-term record, and Kennedy offers an impressive resume."