Indiana remains, essentially, a one-party state after Tuesday’s mid-term election. Republicans are poised to increase their state Senate and House super majorities; elected Diego Morales as secretary of state by a 14% plurality despite numerous allegations of vote fraud and sexual harassment, and came within several points of picking off the 1st Congressional District seat it hadn’t held in 94 years.
U.S. Sen. Todd Young joined Morales in forging an emphatic win, drubbing Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. 57.9% to 38.7% with 94% of the vote reporting. McDermott told reporters at his concession speech, “I wasted 14 months of my life.”
Indiana continues to be a deep red state. It’s largely a function of map drawing at the legislative and congressional levels, and vastly more GOP resources at the statewide level. Democrat secretary of state nominee Destiny Wells was only able to come up with about $500,000 in late TV ad money, leaving her woefully short in burnishing her resume and name ID in her 14% loss to Morales. She was obviously unable to make rural inroads, despite more than 140 Indiana Democrat outreach events in more than 70 counties. Morales won dozens of rural counties with between 60 and 70% of the vote.
In what appeared to be a tough election cycle onset, Democrats left eight Senate seats and 33 House seats uncontested. Senate Republicans picked off Sen. Michael Griffin by Lake County GOP Chair Dan Dernulc and could have defeated Democrat Sens. J.D. Ford and Rodney Pol if they had put in more resources earlier. The Senate GOP super majority is now back to 40-10.
Indiana House Republicans were able to defeat State Reps. Terri Austin (by 35 votes) and Rita Fleming (by 333 votes), while Jackson County Councilman Dave Hall upset Monroe County Commissioner Penny Githens in HD62, that was supposed to be so blue that State Rep. Jeff Ellington abandoned it to run unsuccessfully in HD45. The GOP will likely have a 71-29 House margin once the recounts conclude.
After reapportionment in October 2021, speculation began that the 1st CD had turned “purple.” Freshman Democrat U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan defeated Republican Jennifer-Ruth Green, and it was purplishly close, 52.6% to 47.4%.
Green was attempting to be the first Republican to win The Region seat in 94 years. They thought she would be in the vanguard of substantial GOP gains as the party took over the House. “We knew all along we needed to do everything right to put Jennifer-Ruth in a position to catch a wave,” Tim Edson, a Green campaign consultant, told Mark Schoeff Jr. of Howey Politics Indiana. “We did it, but the wave didn’t materialize. She ran as absolutely good a race as she could have.”
Republicans will be tempted to think they dodged the abortion ban bullet. They did for now, but look at how many states, including Michigan and Kentucky, that rejected bans with constitutional amendments via referendum, which will likely be a 2024 gubernatorial issue.
Indiana Democrat Chairman Mike Schmuhl, who helped Pete Buttigieg win the 2020 Iowa presidential caucuses based on a rural strategy, said Thursday, “Indiana Democrats laid the groundwork in 2021 and 2022, and now it’s time to crisscross our state even more, build up our party from the grassroots, elect city leaders in 2023 and a governor, U.S. Senator, and additional state legislators in 2024.”
While Indiana was a bright, red, glowing ember, nationally Trump Republicans had a dismal night. The “red wave” fizzled, with both the U.S. House and Senate majorities undetermined at this writing following a surge of voters who felt the fate of democracy and female reproductive rights were more important than soaring inflation and gas prices which were at around $4.24 a gallon in Indiana on Election Day.
Sen. Young urged Hoosier Republicans to take an aspirational approach to governance in an election cycle that had been dominated by Donald Trump’s grievances. “When we Republicans present an optimistic vision for the future, of an America more strong and more free, we win in record fashion,” Young said during his victory speech. “Let’s not overlook that conclusion.”
The critical question for control of the U.S. Senate is whether the GOP can stave off Donald Trump’s Nov. 15 presidential kickoff until after Dec. 6 Georgia run-off which could determine control of the upper chamber.
David Frum observed in The Atlantic, “Trump had another night of defeats last night, perhaps his most spectacular yet. He pushed his party to nominate weirdos and crackpots. He trapped a supposedly pro-life party into rallying to a candidate credibly alleged to have pressured two different women into unwanted abortions. Trump raised money for candidates and hoarded the money in his own PAC accounts. Anytime Republicans got a chance to talk about the future, he dragged them into battles over his past misconduct. Last night, voters got their chance to render a verdict. And whatever else they meant to say, they clearly communicated that they were sick of Trump and his antics.”
This new dynamic will come in full relief as former Indiana governor and vice president Mike Pence holds a CNN Town Hall next week. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis emerged with a 20% reelection victory and, perhaps, the frontrunner should Trump be indicted for hoarding top secret documents at his Florida resort.
Brian A. Howey is a third-generation Hoosier journalist and founder of Howey Politics Indiana and howeypolitics.com. Howey’s lifelong passions are political science and history, which have fueled his entrepreneurial journalism career.