Republicans trying to preserve Indiana dominance

Indiana Republicans spent more than a decade building a strong grip on Indiana's state offices, and voters headed to the polls Tuesday to decide whether they should maintain that hold.

On the ballot are 125 state legislative seats — all 100 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats — and three statewide offices: secretary of state, auditor and treasurer.

Polling sites opened throughout the state Tuesday morning, only hours after some candidates were still making their final pitches to voters during appearances throughout Indiana. Early voting has been going on for weeks, but turnout was expected to be low, with no top-tier races on the ballot.

Voting appeared to be going smoothly at most Indiana polling stations, but a computer glitch temporarily took out voting terminals at five of 11 sites in Floyd County, in the south of the state, said Bill Lohmeyer, a Democratic county election board member.

Technicians got the terminals at two of the sites working within a half hour and got those at the other three sites working by 8 a.m., or two hours late. Voters were directed to other polling sites elsewhere while the technicians were fixing the terminals, which had all been used during the early voting period, Lohmeyer said.

"We had a few people angry with us for having to stand in line a little longer, but sending them to other voting centers was the easiest way to handle this because it's a small county," he said.

In Indianapolis, Sarah Batt, 55, brought her 18-year-old daughter, Rosemary Bickel, with her to vote Tuesday morning at a church on the city's northeast side.

"I don't like the fact that everybody's talking about it being a low voter turnout, so I wanted to participate," Batt said.

Bickel, who was voting for the first time, said she didn't know what to expect, but it was "pretty easy."

Republicans appear poised to retain the auditor and treasurer offices, although Democrat Beth White, the Marion County clerk, has a fair shot at unseating Secretary of State Connie Lawson. Democrats are also hopeful that they will make enough gains to break a GOP supermajority that has allowed House Republicans to conduct business without them.

"Right now, one party controlling everything means a lot of people don't have a voice," said Jen Wagner, a former spokeswoman for the Indiana Democratic Party.

It wasn't long ago that Republicans and Democrats split their hold on Indiana's political seats.

During four of his eight years in office, former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels had to deal with a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats. But Republicans whittled away at that slim margin in successive elections, drawing on Daniels' fundraising prowess and the deep pockets of conservative education groups to target key state House races.

After Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, they were able to redraw legislative districts to give their party a powerful supermajority in 2012. (Democrats drew the district maps to their own advantage in 1991 and 2001, political analysts say.)  House Speaker Brian Bosma and the House Republicans' campaign committee spent heavily in targeted House races trying to defend that supermajority this year.

State schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz is the lone Democrat holding a statewide office.

Having a popular governor as the public face of the party helped, as did winning control of the redistricting process. Daniels and an army of young staffers and veteran fundraisers led rebuilding efforts in the party, starting with Daniels' decisive victory over former Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan in 2004. Daniels was succeeded by fellow Republican Gov. Mike Pence in 2012.

Democrats have seen a few glimmers of hope recently, most stemming from widespread anger over education overhauls driven by conservatives. Ritz, who shocked many in 2012 when she upset Republican schools chief Tony Bennett, has been a fixture on the campaign trail throughout the year.

The Indiana State Teachers Association — the state's largest teachers union — poured close to $1 million into House races over a six-month period, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports. To break the GOP supermajority, the Democrats would have to net three seats, taking the margin from 69-31 to at least 66-34.

In northwest Indiana, Democrats are fielding strong challenges against Rep. Harold Slager, R-Schererville, and Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. Democrats also see chances to unseat Rep. Jack Lutz, R-Anderson, Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Indianapolis, Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield.

But they appear likely to lose the southwestern Indiana seat formerly held by Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, and Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Hammond, also faces a tough re-election bid.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}