Monday, March 22, 2021

If Governor Holcomb Wants to "Rescue" a GOP County Organization, He Might Consider Hamilton County

Last week, I wrote about Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb's intervention to "rescue" the Marion County (Indianapolis) Republican Party by installing one of his operatives, Joe Elsener, as Chairman.  Marion County, which has now become the most Democratic county in the state, is in dire need of help.  I have doubts though that Holcomb and Elsener are willing to take the steps necessary to repair what used to be one of the best grassroots party organizations in the country.

When it comes to Marion County, the good news is the Republican numbers have probably bottomed out.  The bad news is the Republican Party's fortunes in Marion County are unlikely to improve significantly any time soon.  Rebuilding the Marion County Republican Party, which has been in steady decline for the last 3 1/2 decades, is a long term project.  That house burned down awhile back.  It will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.  

Holcomb would be better advised to focus more on the Republican county organizations that are currently on fire, and not in a good way.  Looking at the more urban Indianapolis donut counties, the Republican numbers are significantly down during the Trump era.  But one county ranks above them all in terms GOP decline - Hamilton County.  

Directly north of Marion County-Indianapolis, Hamilton County is home to three of the state's 20 largest cities - Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville.  Westfield and other municipalities also lie in its boundaries.  Hamilton County has the fourth largest population in Indiana and is the wealthiest county.  Long a bastion of Republican votes, Hamilton County is rapidly losing its GOP edge.   

In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in Hamilton County 66.3% to 32%.  Statewide, Romney had just 54.1% of the vote.  

In 2016, Republican Donald Trump took Hamilton County with 56.8% of the vote, beating Hillary Clinton by 19.6.% of the vote.  Statewide Trump had just 57.1% of the vote.  So Hamilton County went from 12.2% above the presidential GOP baseline vote to .3% below it.

In 2020, President Trump won Hamilton County with 52.4% of the vote.  Trump's margin of victory over Biden in Hamilton County was just 6.8%.  Trump won Indiana with 57% of the vote. So the Hamilton County presidential result ran well behind Trump's performance statewide.

To recap Hamilton County's decline using the 2012/2016/2020 format:

GOP presidential vote:  66.3/56.8/52.4
GOP winning margin:  34.3/19.6/6.8
Ham. Co. GOP v. State:  12.2/-.3/-4.6

It is easy to chalk off such performances due to Trump's significant unpopularity in Hamilton County as opposed to the unpopularity of the GOP brand.  But off year elections show Republican candidates significantly underperforming in Hamilton County.  In the 2019 municipal elections, Democrats won a combined three seats on the Fishers and Carmel city councils.  The Democrats could have won a majority on the Fishers council had they been able to recruit candidates to run.  The Hamilton County Democratic Party also couldn't find candidates to challenge the GOP incumbent mayors in Carmel, Fishers and Westfield.  Precinct election results in 2019 show Democratic mayoral candidates in those cities would have started with a 45% baseline.

It should be emphasized that, until 2019, no Democrat had ever won elected office in Fishers or Carmel.  Indeed, for decades there had been virtually no elected Democrats anywhere in Hamilton County.

The Hamilton County GOP's house is on fire.  The only thing that has saved that organization thus far is a lackluster Hamilton County Democratic organization which has struggled to recruit candidates. That is about to change.  

OOP's short takes:

  • As I write this, the United States has announced sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.  The sanctions are being coordinated with several other countries.  This came following President Biden declaring that Russia will pay a price for interfering in the 2020 election.  It is so refreshing to finally have a President who will stand up for the United States and its values against dictators.
  • I'm not fond of the phrase "voter suppression" to describe the spate of state legislative proposals dealing with voting.  A better phrase is "voter discouragement."  Republican legislators, egged on by Trump's bogus claim of a "stolen election," have been zealously pursuing these proposals believing the changes will result in lower turnout and a GOP advantage. Democrats meanwhile scream that the measures will result in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters. 
  • Here is what neither party tells you: voter discouragement methods might change how people vote, but they do not significantly change turnout.  Republicans, by pursuing such measures, are handing Democrats a significant political issue while gaining nothing.  Even appearing to make voting more difficult is not a popular position.  Democrats know that.
  • It's unfortunate that Republicans have decided to go down this road.  There are significant steps that should be taken for ballot security, such as a photo ID requirement.  (Poll workers comparing voter signatures has always been a joke.)  Likewise, I'm not fond of month long early voting, ballet harvesting, or unrestricted vote by mail.  Regarding the latter, we adopted the secret ballot for a reason in this country.  Vote by mail opens the door to people being pressured to vote a certain way by an employer, union hall, spouse, etc.

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