Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Turning the Clock Back to 1990: Hogsett Defeats Hudnut for Secretary of State

Recently I  was asked about Joe Hogsett's upset victory over Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut iu the 1990 Secretary of State's class.  It is an important race to discuss now because it could provide the blueprint for the retiring U.S. Attorney to win the Indianapolis mayor's office.

In 1990, Hogsett was Secretary of State, having been appointed to fill out the rest of his term of Evan Bayh who had left that office early when elected governor in the 1988 election.  He had decided to seek election in his own right, but Hudnut, a popular mayor serving out his fourth and final term, also announced he would run for the office.

Initial polls showed Hogsett had no chance to win.  I believe the polls showed Hudnut with a 30 point lead or more.  A Hudnut victory was so certain, rumor has it, that a Hudnut campaign worker went to the Secretary of State's Office to measure the windows for new drapes.

I remember the race well because I was teaching a campaign strategy class at IUPUI and used the race as an example.  I asked my students what they thought of Hogsett's chances.  Every last one of them thought Hogsett had no chance. They were convinced that Hudnut promoting the "Indianapolis Miracle" on the campaign trail would resonate with audiences outside of Indianapolis. I told my class that people outside of Indianapolis did not view the city in the same way that people living inside the city do.  I said that people outside Indianapolis often thinks the city gets special treatment ,particularly by the legislature.  Having lived in southeast Indiana, I knew that an Indianapolis mayor running for state office would be viewed with skepticism.  The students though were not buying any of what I was selling.

Next, we talked strategy Hogsett could pursue.  They thought possibly Hogsett could brag about his work as Secretary of State.  I told the students that 30 points down, Hogsett had to go after his opponent.  How would he do that?  The students struggled to come up with a winning Hogsett strategy.  I asked them about areas where Hudnut was vulnerable.  I wrote on the board Hudnut's tripling of the local income tax, pushing my students to consider Hogsett going after Hudnut as a tax and spend Republican, effectively running to the right of Hudnut as a fiscal conservative.  The class was skeptical.  The tax increases were justified they said and besides look at how well the City was doing.  They just didn't believe that Hogsett could get any traction attacking Hudnut's record.

When a candidate attacks another for raising taxes, the response explaining what the taxes were used for and why they were justified takes too long given the modern sound bite and people's short attention spans.  Plus the explanation justifying tax increases reemphasizes the fact that taxes were increased and leaves the tax raising candidate on the defensive. While tax increases can be defended at election time, doing so is very tricky and often fails when a skillful candidate is on the other side.

What strategy did Hogsett employ during that 1990 election?  He ran to the right of Hudnut, slamming the Mayor repeatedly for being a tax and spend liberal.  Hudnut's tripling of the local income tax was a major feature of Hogsett's campaign.  Hudnut's strategists were caught flat-footed finding themselves having to defend the Mayor's record rather than promote it.  Hudnut's support among Republicans collapsed as many GOP voters saw Hogsett as a more conservative alternative to the Indianapolis Mayor.  Hogsett made up the 30 point deficit, winning the election 52-48.

In 1992, Hogsett ran against Dan Coats for Senate and lost badly, scoring only 41% of the vote. Two years later in an excellent Republican year he ran for Congress and did better, losing to David McIntosh 54-46. 

What was the difference between those races and the one Hogsett ran against Hudnut in 1990? Well, in those later races, Hogsett faced Republicans who were strong fiscal conservatives.  Hogsett could not run to the right of them.

If Hogsett were to run for Mayor in 2015, could he employ his 1990 strategy, running as a more fiscally conservative alternative, someone who highlights Mayor Ballard's never-ending support for tax and fee increases and Ballard's extremely poor spending priorities that place corporate welfare ahead of basic city services such as public safety?  You betcha.  The only difference between the two races would be that the pool of fiscally conservative, Republican-leaning voters in Indianapolis is less as a percent, than statewide.  But since Ballard only received 51% of the vote in 2011, any erosion of his Republican support would fatal.  Hogsett scaled a mountain to win in 1990.  In 2015, to win the Mayor's office he would have to climb a mole hill.

1 comment:

Pete Boggs said...

Could this be the Hogsett 2015 & Bayh 2016 show? Unfortunately, they could run to the right of Indiana's 10+ year "Republican" majority; where government has grown & taxes have increased, in real, net measurable terms- the kinda thing people understand...