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.