Monday, December 27, 2021

A Lack of Republican Voters is Why Quality Indy GOP Candidates Remain on the Sidelines

The day after Christmas, Indianapolis Star writer James Briggs penned an article which argued that the Republicans could "matter again" in Indianapolis if they would just recruit a high-quality candidate to run for Marion County Prosecutor.

Briggs is filling the shoes of the late Star columnist Matt Tully.  And he is equally as awful.  He enthusiastically embraces every corporate welfare spending scheme put forward by Indianapolis government officials then, in the next breath, complains about a lack of funding for basic city services.  He, like Tully, never seems to get the rather obvious connection between the two. 

In this article, Briggs displays a poor understanding of politics.  Recruiting high quality candidates requires convincing them that they would be entering a competitive race.  Candidates, even the best ones, can only move party baseline numbers so much.  The Marion County GOP can't recruit quality countywide candidates because the political party baseline numbers are no longer close in Marion County.  

In the article, Briggs mentions that Republicans on Twitter have chided him for saying that Mayor Hogsett would easily win re-election if he chooses to run again.  They point to Republican Greg Ballard's 2007 election upset mayoral victory which was followed his being narrowly re-elected in 2011.  

Those Twitter Republicans are just as clueless as Briggs.  The GOP baseline numbers in Marion County have fallen off a cliff since 2011...not that those numbers were not declining dramatically before that.

Here is a dose of reality.  In the last comparable election, 2018, the Democratic candidate for State Treasurer John Aguilera, won Marion County with 61% of the vote.  In 2020, Marion County was the most Democratic county in Indiana.  That year, Democratic Attorney General candidate Jonathan Weinzapfel won Marion County with 63.4% of the vote.  By comparison, Weinzapfel won 62.4% of the vote in Monroe County and 57.1% in Lake County.

Marion County is made up of 9 townships stacked evenly three on top, three in the middle, three on the bottom.  When I began working in Marion County politics in 1986, Democrats controlled exactly one township, Center Township.   The rest of the townships were heavily Republican.  Washington Township used to be the center of the Marion County GOP universe.  Almost all the Republican movers and shakers hailed from that township, and Washington, the most populous of the townships, provided big GOP majorities.  

As of 2020, the most Democratic township in Marion County is my township, Pike.   In the 2020 Surveyor's race (an excellent race to assess the baseline), 77.3% of Pike's votes went to the Democrat.  Center Township provided 75.7%.  Washington Township was at 70.1%.  The other northside township, Lawrence was 68.6% Democrat.  (Interestingly, partisanship is not tracking wealth anymore.  Washington, Lawrence and Pike are the three wealthiest townships in Marion County.)  Warren is now 66.6% Democrat.  Wayne Township is 61.3% Democrat.   The three southside townships, Perry, Decatur and Franklin are still solidly Republican, but even their numbers are down significantly.  Unfortunately for Republicans, the GOP dominated Decatur and Franklin are the two least populated townships.   Two-thirds of the population in Indianapolis lives north of Washington Street which, for most of the county, is the north-south dividing line.   

Of the 25 Indianapolis City-County Council districts, the GOP controls just five southside districts. And that's not because of gerrymandering by Democrats. Republicans drew the council map.

Below is a look at several off-year election GOP baselines versus what it was during the presidential election year of 2020. 

The problem the Marion County GOP has is not a lack of quality candidates, but rather a lack of voters.  When Republican Greg Ballard won the Mayor's Office in 2007, he had a chance to rebuild the Marion County GOP grassroots including its partisan infrastructure.  For eight years, Ballard did exactly nothing toward that end.  Instead of embracing the anti-corporate welfare mantra that allowed him to score an upset over incumbent Mayor Bart Peterson, Ballard went the other direction, becoming just another mayor who put the interests of politically-connected developers and contractors ahead of the people.  The Marion County GOP is now paying a price for that blown opportunity.

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