Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Indianapolis/Marion County Precinct Election Data Shows Voters Fleeing GOP in Droves

For two weeks, I've been eagerly waiting for the Marion County Election Board to release the election results, by precinct, of the Indianapolis municipal election.   There is no better gauge of what is going to happen in the future, than to look at election results, make adjustments, and ascertain the trends the data represent.  The best data to determine the partisanship of an area is to look at the result of baseline races.  Baseline races are races down the ballot where voters generally do not know
the candidate and they default to voting their party.  Races like county surveyor, county recorder, etc.

Unfortunately, the races contested in the 2019 municipal elections in Indianapolis do not provide a good baseline.  The mayoral candidates are too well known, and even local council races might feature candidates familiar to voters in their district.  Plus, council candidates sometimes run unopposed, which throws off the overall D-R numbers in the county.

For my analysis, I decided to take a look at the Mayor's race.  In 2015, Democrat Joe Hogsett won his first term as mayor by defeating businessman and political novice Republican Charles Brewer 62% to 38%.  In 2019, Hogsett faced a more politically experienced opponent, State Senator Jim Merritt, and won even more convincingly, 72% to 27%.

Below is a table showing how many precincts the Republicans won in the 2015 Mayor's race versus 2019, broken down by the old city limits (the wards which are mostly, but not completely in Center Township), and the township precincts that are not part of the city wards.

Area Total Pcts 2015 R Won 2019 R Won
City Wards &  Center Outside 214 2 0
Decatur Twp 16 12 6
Franklin Twp 29 25 13
Lawrence Twp 67 28 3
Perry Twp 58 46 5
Pike Twp 51 2 0
Warren Twp 36 9 1
Washington Twp 69 13 0
Wayne Twp 60 20 3
600 157 31

While Sen. Merritt did run worse than most (all?) GOP council candidates in their respective districts, those Republican council candidates also did terrible, losing 20 of 25 districts.   The only GOP council members will now be from the southside and even two of those districts proved competitive on election day.

These precinct numbers should be a red flashing light to the Indiana State Republican Party.  Many Republican state legislative districts include a significant number of Marion County precincts if not a majority.  While the last redrawing of the General Assembly maps extended those districts into the GOP heavy suburban doughnut counties, that may not be enough to save them.  Hamilton County, for example, saw an acceleration in a Democratic trend, so much so that Democrats won city council seats in Fishers and Carmel.

Furthermore, the Marion County and suburban trend toward Democrats show the vulnerability of GOP statewide candidates who will be on the ballot in 2020, including Governor Eric Holcomb.
Previously, I documented how the statewide GOP candidate numbers were significantly down from 2014 to 2018.  But those mid-term elections tend to be much better for Republicans and thus GOP statewide candidates can lose a significant number of votes and still comfortably win. That's not the case with presidential election years when Democrats tend to be more competitive statewide.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Mississippi and Kentucky Elections Redux: Do Trump Rallies Actually Help Republican Candidates?

Last Saturday, a Democrat won another statewide election in the South.  John Bel Edwards who was elected Governor of Louisiana in 2015 thanks to a sex scandal involving the Republican nominee, won re-election over his GOP opponent, businessman Eddie Rispone.   President Donald Trump held three rallies in the state to help Rispone, including two just days before the election.  But Trump's support of Rispone was even more involved than that.  Politico describes: 
Trump’s activity in the Louisiana contest was particularly extensive: In addition to the rallies, he called into conservative radio stations on Rispone’s behalf, recorded get-out-the-vote robocalls and videos, and sent out a stream of tweets savaging Edwards. On Saturday, the president wrote several tweets encouraging Louisianans to cast their ballots for Rispone. 
Trump’s political operation also invested heavily, with the Republican National Committee spending $2 million on the race....
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-Louisiana)
Despite Trump's efforts, Edwards, an old-fashioned conservative Democrat, defeated Rispone 51.3% to 48.7% in the run-off.

This loss followed one less than two weeks earlier in Kentucky, where incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin narrowly lost to Democrat Andy Beshear.  Trump had won both states overwhelmingly in 2016, Kentucky by 30 points, Louisiana by 20.

Unlike what I had documented with Indiana statewise races (2014 v. 2018), Trumpism did not seem to hurt GOP statewide candidates down the ballot in Kentucky.  In fact, in Kentucky, GOP candidates, except for Bevin, did considerably better in 2019 than 2015.

In the Kentucky and Louisiana race, President Trump held several rallies at which he asked that voters make the election a referendum on him and impeachment.  Despite his efforts to nationalize the race and make it about him, those heavily Republican states handed victories to Democrats.  What is going on?

The notion behind the Trump rallies, and the other Trump-led get-out-the-vote efforts, is that it encourages Republican voters to go to polls.  The flaw in that theory is that GOP turnout has already been maximized in the Trump era.  We saw that during the 2018 elections. GOP turnout was fantastic during the mid-terms.  Yet the Republican Party took it on the chin because Democratic turnout was also high. 

What Trump rallies appear to be doing is preaching to the choir...and encouraging Democrats to turn out.  Democrats who likely would have stayed home during non-presidential elections are seeing Trump come into their communities and they are responding by going to the polls in droves.  It may well have been in Rispone and Bevin's best interest to run more tightly on the Republican base in their GOP dominated states and forego Trump visit.

Since poor turnout in 2016 sunk Hillary Clinton, Democrats have been motivated to go to the polls.  Whenever Democratic electoral interest might wane, Trump stirs them back up and they respond at the ballot box.

As far as the Republican Party goes, there simply is no empirical evidence that Trump is advancing the GOP brand.  The elections in 2017, 2018 and this year offer proof that Trump's assistance to GOP candidates does not do much in a general election and may be counter-productive.  That shouldn't come as a shock to those who have looked at the numbers.  In 2016, Trump did not lead the GOP ticket in most states.  In most states (Indiana was an exception), statewide GOP candidates outperformed Trump. 

In short, Trump isn't elevating the GOP brand.  He is dragging it down.

Friday, November 15, 2019

GOP Faces Brokered Convention if Trump Cuts 2020 Deal With Prosecutors to Gain Favorable Treatment

Donald Trump will lead the GOP ballot in 2020...probably.  The debate on the Republican side has focused on whether Trump will retain his 2016 running mate, Indiana Governor and current Vice-President Mike Pence. (I actually think there is nearly a 50% chance Pence is not on the 2020 ticket, but my thoughts on that subject are too lengthy to be set out here.) This column is about the outside possibility Trump himself won't be on the 2020 ballot.

No, I don't think Trump will be kicked out of office via impeachment.  He will certainly be impeached by the U.S. House, and deservedly so, for his participation in the attempt to shake down Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (using taxpayer money no less) to try to get a politically-advantageous investigation into his chief political opponent started.  Add to that the fact Trump's bribery scheme put America's national security at risk in the process while aiding his Russia First foreign policy.  It's hard to imagine a scenario more justifying impeachment.  Not sure if Nixon is in heaven or hell (guessing the latter), but he has to be looking at the Trump impeachment developments and thinking "What the hell?"  Nixon's offenses that resulted in his being forced out of office now look like jaywalking versus what Trump is accused of (and has mostly admitted) doing.

Nonetheless, the odds of getting 20 Republican Senators with enough courage to do the right thing and vote out easily the most corrupt and unfit President in my lifetime, is too much to expect. Trump retains a cult leader like control over 85% of Republicans and until that fever breaks, enough GOP Senators will support him to survive.  Now whether those GOP Senators end up surviving their own re-election efforts is a different story.  But at least supporting Trump means they will not have serious primary opposition in their elections, even if they face a more challenging general election because they failed to hold the President accountable for highly unethical, and likely illegal, conduct.

The possibility that Trump will eventually be prosecuted is real.  Besides being an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal enterprise that landed his former attorney Michael Cohen in jail, Trump faces real criminal exposure for his conduct.  That Trump may well have run afoul of federal bribery statutes in attempting to coerce Zelensky into  launching a bogus investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden is only the tip of the Trump prosecutorial iceberg.  Before being elected, Trump had a long history of being a dishonest businessman who skirted the laws.  But Trump got a pass for that conduct as  legal authorities considered him a joke, a bombastic showman who was simply playing the role of successful businessman, a role belied by Trump's ability to lose huge sums of money on nearly every business venture he tried.  When he was elected President though Trump succeeded in getting those legal authorities to finally take him seriously.  Given Trump's dishonesty has carried over to the Oval Office, that's not a good thing.

The Justice Department takes the, rather dubious, position that the Constitution does not permit a sitting President to be prosecuted while in office.   (It's not clear that states are mandated to take that position.)  So that the thought is Trump would run for re-election to try to run out the clock on the statute of limitations that exist for any crimes for which he might be prosecuted.  But that is questionable strategy.  First, there is a very good chance Trump will not be re-elected.  Second, the statute of limitations on many of the crimes for which he might be charged will not have run.  And, finally, the strategy assumes that Trump can avoid committing criminal acts during a second term.  Yeah, good luck with that one.

Trump fashions himself to be a great deal maker. Certainly we have not seen any of that supposed ability during his tenure in office. But Trump does have substantial leverage to avoid or limit prosecution...he could cut a deal that includes walking away from a possible second term.  Prosecutors cut deals all the time with elected officials to step down from office and/or not seek re-election in exchange for more favorable prosecutorial terms.

Could that deal, the greatest deal Trump ever pulled off by far, be in his future? While that is a doubtful scenario, it would leave the GOP facing a chaotic 2020 convention with thousands of delegates untethered to any candidate.   Would Trump put his survival ahead of the interests of his (recently) adopted Republican Party?  If you don't think he would do that, you haven't been paying attention.  What is best for Donald J. Trump always comes ahead of his party and his country.  Always.

This scenario is not likely to play out.  Nonetheless, it is a real possibility for which the GOP needs to be ready.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Indianapolis and Hamilton County Election Takeaways

Yesterday, Indiana held municipal elections across the state.  Here are my thoughts on the the election results in Indianapolis (Marion County) and Hamilton County:
  • Death of the Marion County GOP:  The once great Marion County Republican Party has been struggling for awhile, but there was always hope.  Yesterday that hope was extinguished. The GOP won 12 of the 25 Indianapolis city-county council seats in 2015.  Yesterday, the GOP
    won just 5 of the 25 seats.  My warning that only Republican council candidates with districts south of Washington Street might survive the council election turned out to be deadly accurate.  If that wasn't bad enough, two of the winning Republican candidates narrowly won their southside districts.
  • Marion County Supplants Lake County as Most Democratic County:  Last night, incumbent Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett won 72% of the vote versus the Republican challenger State Senator Jim Merritt's 27%.   Democrats running countywide in Lake County regularly beat Republicans by 2-1 margins.  While the high profile Indianapolis Mayor's race is not the best one for measuring a partisan baseline, that race along with the council races suggest Marion may now be the most Democratic-leaning county in the state.  Move over Lake County.
  • Hamilton County Democratic Party Scores Council Wins:  The good, no great, news for the Hamilton County Democratic Party is that it won a council seat in Carmel as well as a district and at-large seat in Fishers.   But the Democrats gave up the opportunity for a majority of the six person Fishers council when it fielded only one candidate in the three person at-large race. (I know this might have been part of a deliberate strategy to get the one candidate elected, but don't think there is much data to show that strategy actually works.)
  • Hamilton County Democratic Party Blows Mayoral Opportunities:  Looking at the 2018 numbers, I knew the Democrats could run competitive mayoral elections in Carmel and Fishers in 2019.  But Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Joseph Weingarten apparently couldn't find candidates for the mayoral slots, leaving the Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness unopposed in their bids for re-election.  The 2019 election results show Fadness in particular could have been beaten.  In my original analysis, I forgot to consider Westfield where Republican Andy Cook was running for re-election in that city.  Cook had no Democratic challenger, only a Libertarian opponent...who received an incredible 39% of the vote.  Cook is, obviously, an unpopular mayor but the Democrats can't when they don't field a candidate.
  • Marion County/Hamilton County Developments Could Spell Trouble for Statewide GOP Candidates:  If the state's largest county (Marion) is suddenly 70% plus Democrat and the formerly state's most Republican county (Hamilton) is no longer providing huge GOP margins, can statewide Republican candidates continue to win statewide elections?  Probably ... as long as rest of the Indianapolis donut counties continue to provide GOP votes. Haven't studied the results in Boone, Hendricks, Johnson, etc. yet, but my guess is their shift in the Democratic direction is much slower than Hamilton County.  
  • Trumpism's Damage to GOP Brand is Real:  Several of my fellow Republicans warned in 2016 that if the GOP nominated such a disreputable character as Donald J. Trump, Trumpism would come to define and harm the Republican brand.  That damage was on display in the 2018 election results and now once again in 2019.  Possibly that damage is temporary, but my guess is it is long term and will take a generation from which to recover.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Christine Scales, Indianapolis' Finest Public Servant, is Not on Today's Ballot

After receiving a lot of positive feedback for the race I ran trying to unseat then State Rep. Jeb Bardon from a Pike Township based seat in 2000, I was persuaded by a couple state representatives to run for Marion County Clerk.  Months into that endeavor, in the midst of attending scores of Republican meetings across the county, I received a call from a high level Marion County GOP operative.  He told me that party leadership would be supporting my GOP slating opponent because I
"could not be controlled." While I might vote the way Marion County GOP leaders wanted 90% of the time, they wanted someone who will support them 100%, even when what they wanted wasn't in the public's best interest.

It was probably about that time frame, 2001-2002, that I met  Christine Scales at a Washington Township GOP meeting.  Christine was later elected to her northside Washington Township city-county council district in 2007, serving three terms.  Christine Scales proved be a tireless public servant who always insists on putting the best interests of her constituents first, even when her party's leadership wanted her to vote the other direction.  In short, Christine was the elected official who "could not be controlled" by party bosses.

Okay, "tireless" may not be the right term.  No doubt that after three terms of non-stop fighting on behalf of her constituents, Christine is, understandably, very tired.  For 12 years she has been a flurry of activity.  Her chief interest has always been public safety.  I remember well her fight to ensure northside residents had sufficient fire coverage when the city tried to eliminate a ladder truck.  She also has been a good friend to law enforcement, fighting to ensure they had the resources and equipment to make Indianapolis neighborhoods safer.

What I like most about Christine though is that she has always been a straight shooter.  She always is willing to tell you what she thinks and if her words step on some political toes in the process, so be it.  And Christine has stepped on a whole lot of toes while in office.

To understand the arc of Christine's political career requires an understanding of Indianapolis/Marion County politics.  Although party control in the county has gradually shifted from Republican to Democrat these past few decades, it has always been developers, contractors, and big law firms who have called the shots.  If there is some project that will result in taxpayer money ending up in the pockets of these powerful special interests, you can bet that the project will be supported by Indianapolis' political leaders, regardless of the party.  Even when the Indianapolis GOP faces a drubbing at the polls, which will most surely happen today, you don not see Republican mayor or council candidates speaking out for Indy residents against the wishes of  those special interests.  It is a line that candidates, even those facing sure defeat, will not cross.

Christine never got that memo.  Or more likely, knowing her, she did get the memo and threw it in the trash.  Regardless, Christine went about doing her job, fighting for constituents and getting re-elected by voters who liked and appreciated her putting community service ahead of special interests.

Proposal 364, which is one of the last measures Christine initiated on the Council, is emblematic of her work.  During her time in office, Christine attended scores of committee meetings in which advocates for various proposals would blindside councilors with reams of documents filled with stats and data for why the councilor should support, or oppose, some measure.  Naturally, councilors presented with the documents for the first time at the committee meeting do not have the time it to digest the information (considering in the process its veracity as well as alternative information), prior to casting a vote on the measure under consideration.  Proposal 364 is a good government measure aimed at requiring that those documents be provided to councilors 48 hours in advance of the committee meeting.  If the documents are not provided in a timely fashion, Christine's measure provides that a committee vote can be taken to delay consideration of the proposal until the next scheduled meeting.

While Proposal 364 passed out of committee unanimously, council leaders have apparently stalled the measure, quite possibly as a final personal affront to Christine who to the very end insists of putting her constituents ahead of Indy's special interests who exercise the political clout in the city.

During Christine's last term in office, she switched her partisanship from Republican to Democrat.  But, regardless of what party she affiliated with, she always put the voters first.   Thank you, Christine, for all you did and tried to do.  Indianapolis is better off because of your service.