Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Hale v. Spartz: Analysis Reveals Why Indiana Congressional District 5 Is Winnable for Democrats

With the primary results now in, we know which two candidates will be squaring off in Congressional District 5, an open seat currently represented by Republican Susan Brooks who is retiring.  Victoria Spartz, a Republican state senator from Noblesville, battled it out with fourteen other GOP candidates, winning a strong plurality of the vote.  Christine Hale a former member of the Indiana House and candidate for Lt. Governor, won the Democratic Primary.

Christine Hale
I decided to spend the first part of today looking more closely at the numbers in the district.  It did not take long to see why Brooks chose to retire.   The GOP edge in the district is collapsing.  While Brooks probably would have survived in 2020, it was going to be a battle. With the power of incumbency gone, the Republicans could lose the district this time around.

Spartz appears to hold solid conservative positions.  As much as I hate to say it, Republicans might have been better off  with a nominee who has more moderate positions on issues.  But |Spartz problem is not so much abortion, gun rights, etc., it is that, to win the primary she wrapped herself in the Trump flag.  Donald Trump is popular in the rural parts of CD5, but most of the votes in the district come from the northern Indianapolis suburbs where Trump is very unpopular.

I met then Rep. Christine Hale a number of years ago when she was making an outreach to conservative Republicans in her house district.  She spent most of the meeting simply listening to our concerns.  Hale came across as personable and open minded.  Even the most extreme conservatives in the room, and there were many, liked her and thought she was someone with whom they could work.

Hale faces an uphill battle in Indiana CD5.  But a close look at the numbers reveal it is not that much of an uphill battle.   With the right message and a precision campaign targeting key precincts in the key counties in CD5, Hale could prevail.   She needs to flip Republican leaning voters in CD 15 from their natural inclination to vote for the Republican Spartz to supporting her.  If the election were held today, there would be tens of thousands of voters in CD5 who would vote against Trump, then vote for Holcomb and the rest of the Republicans.  Hale does not need all those voters.  She just needs about 10,000 to 15,000 to scratch for one more Democrat besides "Sleepy" Joe Biden.

Sen. Victoria Spartz
There are parts of eight counties in CD 5:  Hamilton, Marion, Madison, Grant, Boone, Tipton, Howard and Blackford.   In 2018, 43.2% of the vote in CD 5 came from one county, Hamilton.  The next biggest share was Marion with 27.7%, followed by Madison 13.8%, Grant 6.3% and Boone 4.9%.  Each of the remaining counties provided less than 2% of the total vote in CD5.

In 2016, when Brooks won CD 5 by 98,108 votes she only lost Marion County by 1,575 votes and won Hamilton County by 59,565.  But in 2018, the margins in those two counties shifted dramatically in the Democrats' favor.  Democrat Dee Thornton defeated Brooks in Marion County by 16,244 votes and only lost Hamilton County by 30,313.

The year 2018 was a mid-term election year, which means lower turnout than in the presidential election year which preceded it.  But while the GOP vote in CD5 dutifully dipped in 2018 compared to 2016, the Democrats' vote in Hamilton, Marion and Boone astonishingly went up.  In Hamilton County, Democrat Thornton received 10,000 more votes in 2018 than Democrat Angela Demaree did in 2016.

As a result, Brooks' victory margin fell from in the district 98,108 in 2016 to 42,893.

The dramatic shift within District 5 toward Democrats continued in 2019, as every Indianapolis Republican northside council member lost.  Meanwhile, Democrats won council seats in Carmel and Fishers.  Indeed in Fishers, the Democrats could have gained control of that city's council in 2019 had they not fallen short on candidate recruitment.

One rule of Indiana politics is that Republicans are better at going to the polls in lower turnout elections, like mid-term and municipal contests, while Democrats do better with turnout in general elections.  I doubt that basic dynamic has suddenly changed.  What I think is happening is that a lot of urban/suburban Democrats stayed home in 2016 and their anger at the presidency of Donald Trump has driven them to vote faithfully ever since.

Anecdotally, I saw that trend at the polls yesterday.  Voters at Guion Creek Middle School were waiting as long as 3 hours standing in the sun in nearly 90 degree heat to vote in a primary that featured very few contests. (Just in the time I was in line to vote - 1 hour, 40 minutes - I saw two EMT runs to help overheated voters.)  That is remarkable.  I am certain that almost all of those voters at Guion Creek were Democrats.  Probably 75% were African-American and there was not a MAGA shirt or hat among any of the thousands of voters at the polling location.

If Hale's campaign team is smart, they will not spend any time in Marion County.  Donald Trump will make certain that the Democratic turnout is maximized in Indianapolis  There is nothing Hale can do to further juice Democratic turnout in Marion County and the few remaining Republicans left on the northside of Indy are hard Rs and probably unreachable.  In 2018, Thornton's edge in Marion County was 16,244 votes.  In 2020, that Democratic margin will likely swell to 25,000 to 30,000 votes with Hale doing absolutely nothing.

Hamilton County is where Hale should spend about 80% of her time.  In 2018, despite the power of her incumbency, Republican Brooks' edge in that county was 30,313 down from the 59,656 edge she had in 2016  If Hale successfully ties Spartz to Trump and sells herself to Hamilton County voters as someone who is "independent minded" and will reach across the aisle to work with "good Hoosier Republicans" like Governor Holcomb, Spartz's margin in the county could be drop to as low as 15,000.  If Hale accomplishes that, she should spend the remaining 20% of her time in Madison, Grant and Boone to flip the few more thousand votes in those three counties needed to win the election.

Hale though needs to introduce herself to suburban CD 5 voters, and fast.  Spartz will try to define Hale as a left-winger, a "socialist" who will align herself with San Francisco liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  It is a lot harder to overcome a negative first impression.

Personally, as a Reagan Republican, I would like to be more supportive of a strong conservative like Sen. Spartz.  But when a candidate says he or she wants to go to Washington D.C. to rubber-stamp the actions of a GOP President who has demonstrated nothing but contempt for American democratic values, the Constitution and the rule of law, and the conservative values I have fought for all my life, I am not going to support that candidate.  Spartz has sold her soul to become a Trump enabler.  Let her now suffer the consequences.

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