09 May, 2012

Indiana Primary Postmortem

I’m happy today. Neither of Congressman Dan Burton’s (R-IN-05) nor Senator Dick Lugar’s (R-IN) names will appear on my ballot this November. In addition, after I agonized over whom to support in IN-05, I finally selected Susan Brooks, and she won. She’ll be a good Congresswoman. Jackie Walorski won her primary in IN-02, and I think she will likely win in November as well. People not from IN are going to be amazed by this woman if she makes it to Washington, DC. Watch out.

But enough about that. Let’s think about what happened and what it means. I want you to mull over some facts for a minute. We had no statewide ballot initiatives that would affect primary turnout significantly for either side. President Barack Obama (D-USA) ran unopposed, and I think we’re all finally in agreement that former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) has sown up the Republican nomination. For Governor, both the Democrat and the Republican ran unopposed. There may have been somewhat of an uptick on the GOP side for the the Lugar/Mourdock Senate race. There were about 400,000 votes in GOP Pres primary in 2008, and closer to 600,000 this year. But in 2008, operation CHAOS was in full swing. Former Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) almost won IN, where there were over 1.2 million votes cast in the Dem primary. So, it appears that neither the GOP nor the Democrats should have had any kind of significant “built-in” enthusiasm edge. I’ll give you a slight one for the GOP, but I don’t think it’s huge.

So, comparing apples to apples, then:

Governor race:

Candidate Votes
Mike Pence (R) 530,384
John R Gregg (D) 202,186

Even if you think there was an edge for GOP voters, you’d have to convince yourself it’s close to 3:1 to be able to spin this as good news for Gregg. This is a brutal looking result for the Democrats. Hard to imagine that Pence is not going to be our next Governor.

Presidential Race:

Candidate Votes
Mitt Romney (R) 398,188
Barack Obama (D) 216,128
Ron Paul (R) 95,467
Rick Santorum (R) 82,620
Newt Gingrich (R) 39,769


Obama did a tick better than Gregg. Basically, it looks like we can set the bar at around 225,000 for Dem voters (and that’s probably on the high side) in this primary, and about 615,000 for GOP voters.

But, I said earlier there was little to no “built-in” enthusiasm edge. Yes. That means there was no intrinsic reason based on the ballots themselves for either side to have a big advantage over the other.  The 3:1 edge we’re looking at here is the result of an extrinsic enthusiasm gap. It appears to show that GOP voters in IN are much more enthusiastic about this election than Dem voters. This will likely carry over to November. I think we can write off IN as a swing state for the White House. It won’t be blue this time.

Finally, there’s the Senate race. I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about this:

Candidate Votes
Richard E. Mourdock 387,982
Richard G. Lugar 256,108
Joe Donnelly 202,320


Donnelly did about as well as Gregg and Obama. And 50,000 votes worse than Lugar, who lost to Mourdock by over 125,000 votes. Again, this is not a good sign for Donnelly.

But the Democrats have a plan.

As I said yesterday, we’re a purple to red state here. We think of ourselves as conservatives, but also centrist. That’s why we had Senators like Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Evan Bayh (D-IN) for many years. The IN Dems will try very hard to paint Mourdock as an extremist and Donnelly as the centrist willing to cross the aisle.

It’s going to be a hard sell. Donnelly is a little bit of a Blue Dog Democrat, only voting with Dems 69% of the time in his term. But, Mourdock will be quick to point out that in every single key vote, Donnelly sided with his Democrat brethren and against Indiana. He voted for ObamaCare. He voted against ObamaCare repeal. He voted against the GOP budget. He voted in favor of the Senate Payroll tax bill. He voted against debt reduction. He voted against defunding NPR. In short, every time he could have voted to save Hoosiers money, he voted the other direction. Frankly, of the two, Mourdock seems more likely to be the one to cross the aisle on a vote where his vote might matter.

Honestly, the IN Dems have to be kicking themselves this morning. There’s no doubt that Lugar’s loss gives them an opening. Centrists are now in play, and we have a lot of them here. But Donnelly is an exceptionally weak candidate. He’s a two-term Congressman, that wasn’t likely to be re-elected (he would’ve been facing a rematch against a better funded and better organized Jackie Walorski). They never really thought that Lugar would be defeated, and Donnelly was the only person they could find willing to run against him.

But, facing what looks like a GOP headwind in November, at least in IN, Donnelly has a big challenge. There’s six months to go, and you never know who’s going to make the key mistake in a campaign, but it’s hard to see Donnelly coming out on top right now.

UPDATE: Earlier version of this post had stated incorrectly that Donnelly was a one-term Congressman. He has served two terms. My mistake.

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