Sunday, November 21, 2010

Murray's Story On 2011 Mayoral Race Belies Ballard's Real Challenge

Democratic political consultant James Carville is known for his famous line in the 2002 presidential campaign: "It's the economy, stupid." In the 2011 Indianapolis mayoral race, the line should be: "It's the numbers, stupid." That is the shifting demographics of Marion County in favor of the Democratic Party. The Star's Jon Murray previews the 2011 election today, but more important over whether Greg Ballard is liked or is perceived of doing a good or bad job are the unmistakable voting trends in Marion County over the past decade.

The Democrats' advantage in straight-party voting in this year's election underscores this point. Democrats held a more than a 20,000-vote advantage in straight party voting, winning 79,125 votes to 58,140 votes cast for Republican candidates out of 215,000 votes cast. Nearly two-thirds of the people who cast votes voted by party and not individual candidate, leaving only a little more than a third of the electorate in play. That meant a very well-funded Republican candidate for prosecutor in Mark Massa, who easily outspent his Democratic opponent, managed to get only 48% of the vote. In fact, not a single Republican candidate won a countywide race this year, including both statewide and countywide candidates. And lest we forget this was one of the biggest wave elections for Republicans in decades. Even in the 2007 mayoral election, in which there was a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment against the Democrats, Democrats managed to outpoll straight-party voters by about 2,500 votes with voter turnout up for a municipal election. Ballard won a bare 50.5% of the vote compared to Peterson's 47.2%, or a 5,300 vote margin.

If you compare the results in the 2003 municipal election when there weren't any big issues in the campaign, things look even more ominous for Republicans. In that election there were 16,000 fewer votes cast. Democratic straight-party voting favored the Democrats by 17,000 votes. Again, two-thirds of the votes cast were straight-party votes, leaving only about a third of the votes in play. Mayor Bart Peterson swamped his Republican opponent, Greg Jordan, by more than 37,000 votes, 92,763 to 55,354. A key point in Murray's story is this:

One wild card is whether Ballard can successfully transform his earlier insurgent anti-tax campaign into an incumbent's drive for re-election, given the decisions and compromises that come with governing.

Democrats already are targeting independent voters who flocked to Ballard last time, arguing he has done "things he said he would never do when he was running for office," as county Democratic Party Chairman Ed Treacy puts it.
How that one-third of the electorate that votes independently is the key. In 2007, Ballard overwhelmingly captured independent voters because of voters' anger over rising property taxes, crime and perceived ethical issues with the Democrats. Republicans, even on a shoe-string budget, were able to parlay the anti-incumbent sentiment to win a very narrow mayoral election and control of the council. There is absolutely nothing on the current political horizon to suggest any similar sentiments that will work to the advantage of Republican candidates. Indeed, Republicans have squandered their anti-tax message with  tax increases for the CIB, utility rate increases for the sale of the water company and a plethora of fee increases. The recent sale of the parking meter assets with its doubling of parking meter rates could really bite Republicans hard in the 2011 election. And Democrats have found an even larger poster child for the unethical in City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn than Monroe Gray offered the Republicans in 2007.

During the 2007 election, Ballard repeatedly uttered the refrain, "public safety is job one." He wanted control of the police, and his Republican-led council gave it to him. Since taking control of IMPD, the department has been plagued by one police scandal after another. Distrust of the police has increased significantly under Ballard's leadership. While Ballard enjoyed overwhelming support of police during his 2007 election, many police officers are openly at war with his administration, not unlike what we saw with Peterson when police were angered he had ceded control of the department to Sheriff Frank Anderson in the merger of the two department's law enforcement responsibilities. Ballard's administration cites crime statistics that purport to show an improvement in the crime problem, but to the average person, crime is worse than ever, particularly with the number of home invasions on the rise.

As someone who fought hard for Ballard and as an elected precinct committeeman, I can tell you that Ballard enjoys the support of very few of the activists who led him to victory in 2007. In fact, he has gone out of his way to alienate those key supporters. Most are no longer on speaking terms with him. Many have vowed to vote against his re-election. Even "Flipper", his reliable driver during the 2007 election, has vowed not to support him. When I receive better treatment from Andre' Carson than I do Ballard, after all of the aid I provided him on this blog when his own party leadership was working against him, it speaks volumes of his character and lack of loyalty. So much for Semper Fi, eh?

If you believe the 2011 mayoral election will be close, then it's worth considering the Libertarian factor. In 2007, the Libertarians nominated a guy to run who spent most of the year out of state and only returned to campaign towards the very end. Even with Fred Peterson's lackluster effort, he still managed to garner 2.3% of the vote, or 3,787 votes. Presumably, Libertarians will be more inclined to field a stronger field of mayor and council candidates. One elected at-large city-county council candidate, Ed Coleman, switched parties to become a Libertarian and will offer them something they haven't had before, a current officeholder with some name identification running for re-election. If the 2010 elections are any indication, Libertarians could easily capture 5% of the vote in the mayoral election, which could be enough to doom any Republicans' chance of winning in this county.

It's also pretty much a sure bet Democrats will regain control of the council, which Republicans currently control 15-13-1. Typically, the party which wins the mayoral election will carry the four at-large races. Republicans lost one of those races in 2007 because the party's leadership had written off the mayor's race and only backed one of its at-large candidates, Kent Smith. The Libertarian candidates siphoned off enough votes to deprive victory to the one lone Republican who lost, Michael Hegg. In the 25 district races, Republicans will have to work hard to hold five seats it currently holds, including seats held by Christine Scales, Mike McQuillen, Marilyn Pfisterer, Janice McHenry and Susie Day. Scales is the only one of those councilors who has sought to put some distance between herself and Mayor Ballard, in particular on controversial votes to bail out the CIB and to sell off the parking meter assets. Her district is one of the most competitive of all of those districts, and she is wisely seeking to separate herself from Mayor Ballard, although in a wave election, even that separation may not be enough to save a Republican in a vulnerable district.

Past elections have indicated among Democratic-held seats, the two Mahern seats and the districts represented by Angela Mansfield and Mary Moriarty Adams are competitive; however, those seats will likely be safe for their party if the Democrats are united behind a well-funded candidate. The forces that made those races competitive in 2007 aren't going to be present in 2011. In addition, Brian Mahern smashed Republican Scott Keller in 2007 because of his support for Bart Peterson's unpopular income tax increase. The Democratic Party seems to be close to reaching that point with many of its leaders supporting former Deputy Mayor Melina Kennedy, who narrowly lost to Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi before he became plagued by personal scandals. My party seems only interested in its pursuit of pay-to-play politics, abandoning all of the principles on which it relied for its victories in 2007. Yes, Ballard and the Republicans will be well-funded, but as the 2007 election proved, all the money in the world won't matter if the issues aren't on your side, particularly when the numbers are definitely not on your side.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Terrific analysis Gary. I don't disagree with a word of it.

leland35 said...

Ballard brought in that New York Liberal, Frank Straub. Frank Straub is doing everything that Mayor Ballard wrote in his book on Leadership causes leaders to fail.

Mayor Ballard, is Frank Straub lying to you about crime? Is Frank Straub, PhD, manipulating or otherwise changing crime stats to retain employment?

I think the appointment of Frank Straub will be the focal point of the election and the cause for people not to vote for a candidate, but CAUSE for people to VOTE AGAINST Ballard!

Had Enough Indy? said...

What do you think it will take for Scales to get re-elected? Her votes on these sweetheart deals have been very brave. I'd like to think she can differentiate herself on that basis with her voters.

Gary R. Welsh said...

You need look no further than the results in Jim Merritt's Senate race, Pat. Merritt represents that district well and campaigned very hard. He still barely managed to get 52% of the vote and Anderson hardly lifted a finger to campaign for that seat. I think some of Christine's district overlaps with his if I'm not mistaking. The changing demographics are the challenge. Scott Schneider had a very close race in that council district in 2003 and he was very visible and well known. A lot of the Republicans didn't expect Christine to win that seat in 2007.

Bill said...

This is one of the very best blogs that I have ever seen concerning our city government. Nice job.