Friday, November 10, 2017

Does Hamilton County (Indiana) Present an Opportunity for Democrats in 2018?

Last Tuesday featured a shifting electorate in which heavily populated suburbanites turned out in droves to cast ballots for Republicans Democrats.  Even though Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie did extremely well in the Trump rural counties (so much for the theory that Gillespie's problem was that he wasn't Trump enough) he got utterly destroyed by high turnout in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.  Those highly-educated, wealthy, mostly white voters were casting votes for Democrat Ralph Northam.  Previously, Republicans did fairly well with that constituency.  But in the Trump era, those suburbanites suddenly are pulling the Democratic lever.

The 2017 GOP debacle wasn't confined to Virginia.  (In that state commonwealth, the scores of losses in the Virginia House of Delegates were actually much more noteworthy than the Governor's race.)  In other suburban areas that were once Republican bastions, Democrats were suddenly winning.  The message in many of those districts were simple:  Show up on November 7th to vote against Donald Trump.  That message drove an astonishing level of anti-Trump turnout, propelling Democrats to win in areas they have not been competitive in for decades, if ever.

Indianapolis, with over 900,000 residents, is the 13th biggest city in the United States. But
Indianapolis, unlike other smaller cities, does not have a large metro population.  You drive out of Marion County and you will in just a few miles be in farm country.

Discussion of Indianapolis's suburbs typically focuses on the so-called "doughnut" counties, i.e. those counties which touch upon Marion County, which county encompasses all the City of Indianapolis.   Despite some growing suburban cities such a Greenwood and Avon, doughnut counties like Morgan, Hancock, Shelby and Hendricks are still dominated by rural areas within those counties.  But there is one notable exception.  Hamilton County.  That county just north of Indianapolis features Carmel, Fishers and Westfield, three booming population centers that contribute to make it the fourth largest county at 316,373 people, more than 1/3 the size of the population of Marion County-Indianapolis.

Could Hamilton County Democrats run a "Vote against Trump" campaign in 2018 and be successful?  Long a student of Indiana politics, I have to be skeptical.  While Hamilton County's GOP numbers have slipped a bit, it remains a source of a large GOP margin in most state-wide elections.

But here's the thing.  Donald Trump is not popular in Hamilton County.  In 2016, he received only 56.8% of the vote in the county.  And that was with his opponent being Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular candidate the Democrats have ever nominated.  How many of that 56.8% of Trump voters dislike the New York businessman, but voted for him solely because of who he is running against?  If Hamilton County Democrats successfully ran a 2017 style Trump-referendum campaign in conjunction with a slate of candidates, could they defeat the once dominant, Trump-tainted Hamilton County GOP?

Of course, that scenario contains a big "if."  Associating a candidate with an unpopular national political figure is always a challenge, especially when you're talking about local races.  But the Trump brand of toxic politics might make the President an exception.

Probably the biggest obstacle for Hamilton County Democrats is that they have not had much time to build a team that is ready to take the field in the event that the GOP in that county stumbles.  In 2016, Hamilton County Democrats finally found candidates for county-wide office.  In 2014, the election comparable to 2018, Hamilton County Democrats did not field a single candidate for county-wide office, conceding such races as Prosecutor, Sheriff and Clerk to the Republicans.

Does Hamilton County present an opportunity for Democrats in 2018?  Yes, but it's a long, long shot. But that's better than no shot, which is exactly what Hamilton County Democrats had before Trump won the Presidency.


Unknown said...

I am a Democrat. I ran for a seat on the Hamilton County Council in 2014 (and 2016). Your statement that the Hamilton County Democrats did not field a single candidate for county office in 2014 is inaccurate. Rosemary Dunkke

Paul K. Ogden said...

Rosemary, sorry I was not clear in what I wrote. When I said "county" office, I was referring to "county-wide" office, things like Clerk, Prosecutor, Sheriff. Thanks for pointing out to the need to make an edit to clarify. Paul

Anonymous said...

57% of the vote is weak? What is really weak is the spine of Hamilton County Republicans....they seem to be way out of step
with Indiana Republicans. Am I wrong to think that many of them preferred Donnelly to Murdock?

The Amazing Abdul said...

You can't win if your candidates keep dropping out of the race.

Anonymous said...

What Abdul is still around? Who would have thought? Still registering your car and doing your taxes in Illinois Abdul? How many decades do you have to live in Indianapolis until you bother to register your car here?

Anonymous said...

If Hamilton County goes blue ( along with Allen and Vanderburgh) then Indiana easily becomes a purple if not blue state. Good luck on winnning senate races without us. As far as "weak willed Republicans" maybe nominate better candidates that campaign on issues that Hamilton county cares about, like jobs, lower taxes, lower spending and property rights. Instead of the god awful grievance mongering we get from Trump.

As far as Hamilton CO. Dems having a shot at local office? No. Not really, they don't have much to run on and most of the people they nominate are burnt out ex-state employees. They even ran a former Illinois state rep against Huston in Fishers. All of the local GOP candidates won easily, Hamilton County is not really comparable demographically to the VA suburbs that flipped so strongly this November and it shows because while Trump performed the worst of any Republican presidential candidate in that county since the Depression he still won with a solid double digit margin. All of the local candidates did even better, even those in the Carmel and Fishers areas where even Romney only won by single digits. Some of these Republicans like Kenley and Heirbrandt and much of the Council candidates, didn't even much bother to put up sides or run a real campaign, still won with over 65% of the vote at least (Kenly got 70%). So I expect the Dems to fall flat on their face even if Trump has given them a chance. I should also note that Laura Campbell has kept the local party as a "big tent" that might make it seem "trumpy" to some people because of the natural overt support of a Republican president, but the local party still does and includes people not happy with Trump and who pursue an agenda the national party has mostly abandoned.

True Republican said...

The Hamilton County GOP should deserves to die for crucifying Charlie White.

Anonymous said...

I am totally with what True Republican says.

And I might add, that the most uber-corrupt Hamilton County-residenced attorney whose initials are Carl Brizzi still walks the earth and breathes the air of freedom is one of the most grotesque pornographies of the Hoosier "judicial system".

Corruption throughout the GOP Indiana Bar members is endemic.

Veterans for Peace Indianapolis said...

Yet I heard him on the radio today, claiming some libertarian mantle.