NASHVILLE, Ind. — Indiana Republicans are at their historic apex. They control 107 out of 150 General Assembly seats (and almost all of the rural seats), nine out of 11 congressional offices, and all of the Statehouse constitutional positions. The maps drawn in 2011 make Democratic gains (only four seats in the General
Assembly) virtually impossible as we saw in this wave election year.
Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer
Beyond the big cities, Republicans hold a majority of city and county offices across the state....
The verdict of Hoosier voters earlier this month to deny U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly a second term essentially renders Indiana as a one-party state, from a functional standpoint.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer preside over this cascading exhibition of absolute power.
For Hupfer, Mike Braun’s dispatching of Donnelly was the culmination of a two-year effort that reached across multiple platforms, party entities and campaigns.
“Not only did we have good funding, we had early funding where we could really build up that infrastructure over the state for well over a year,” Hupfer said in a Howey Politics Indiana interview.I know I overuse the phrase, but Chairman Hupfer is whistling as he walks by the graveyard. No doubt Hupfer should be given credit for the Indiana GOP not taking it on the chin as badly as the party did in other states. And Hupfer too shares much of the credit for Braun's win over the incumbent Senator Democrat Joe Donnelly. But the Howey piece goes beyond that, claiming the Indiana GOP is at an "historic apex." A closer look at the numbers though reveals that the Indiana GOP losing voters as races grow tighter. The "historic apex" is in the past.
A critical part of political analysis is to examine how the "base vote" changes over time. The base vote is measured by looking at who is winning the low profile races and by how much. The base vote represents the default for voters. In low profile races in which few voters actually know anything about the candidates, they tend to vote the party that best represents their views. Another aspect of base vote that is critical is that apples are compared to apples, oranges to oranges. Because turnout, usually, fluctuates widely from presidential elections to mid-terms, a comparison of base vote focuses on similar elections.
I have already documented the astonishing decline of the GOP margin in populous Hamilton County which contains the northern suburbs of Indianapolis. Trump was the least popular GOP candidate in Hamilton County in 2016 and the GOP numbers continued to slide in that county in 2018. Many races in Hamilton County are just a stone's throw away from being won by Democrats. That was unheard of before the Trump era began in 2016.
The trend in well-to-do Hamilton County is not a surprise, however. In wealthy suburbs across the country, voters are leaving the GOP in droves. Hamilton is by far the most populous of the Indianapolis doughnut counties. The substantial rural nature of the other doughnut counties just means those counties will stay a deeper shade of red longer than Hamilton County. But it certainly doesn't mean the movement away from the GOP is not happening in those counties too. It is.
But perhaps the rural Indiana counties are offsetting the Trump era GOP decline in Marion County (Indianapolis) and the suburbs? No, they are not. Let's take a look at the statewide base vote. A good race to look at is State Auditor as nine voters out of ten could not tell you anything substantive about the candidates for State Auditor even if they could identify the candidates without a ballot. People typically vote their party when they vote for State Auditor.
This month, Republican Tera Klutz won the State Auditor's race with 55.5% of the vote. The Democrat Joselyn Whitticker received 41.0%. (The Libertarian candidate received the balance.) That is a 14.5% win. Definitely a comfortable margin.
Actually a much less comfortable margin. In 2014, State Auditor candidate Republican Suzanne Crouch (who left that position to become Lt. Governor) received 59.6% of the vote versus the Democrat who finished with 36.0%. The margin between the two candidates was 23.6%. Between 2014 and 2018, the Republican base vote victory margin over the Democrats shrank by 9.1 points.
Certainly Indiana Republican statewide candidates can afford to lose a few points in mid-term elections, but presidential election years are a different story. In 2016, Indiana Republicans won the Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction races by 5.9% and 6.8% respectively. If Trump continues to drive suburban Republicans away from the party as he did in 2018, Hoosier Democrats are well within reach of winning statewide races in 2020, including the biggest prize, Governor.
I won't even get into the scores of state legislative races, especially in the suburbs, that are suddenly competitive for Democrats. Although few GOP incumbents were beaten this election, that does not mean the Democrats haven't gained substantial ground. They have.
I would close by noting that Indiana is not an aberration. The notion that "the red states are getting redder" in the Trump era, a mantra repeated frequently in the media, is fiction. In the future, I plan to share election results in some of those states which demonstrate voters in even more rural voters are leaving the GOP in the Trump era, just not as quickly or in the numbers as their suburban counterparts.