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Presidential coattails proved to be long for Republicans in Indiana

  • Nov. 14, 2016

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Megan Banta

President-elect Donald Trump’s unexpected victory propelled some of his fellow Republicans to victories in Indiana, according to political experts.

“What happened is there was a Trump wave that went through the industrial Midwest, including Indiana, and I think it was a lot bigger than anyone foresaw,” said Paul Helmke, a professor of practice at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Governor-elect Eric Holcomb pulled off the biggest upset, defeating Democrat John Gregg despite a lack of name recognition and being behind in most polls in a race most pundits were prepared to hand to Democrats.

U.S. Sen.-elect Todd Young, a Republican who currently represents the 9th Congressional District including Monroe County, upset Democrat Evan Bayh in a race that was expected to be neck-and-neck, but ended up being called early for Young.

In that race, Young beat Bayh by 10 points, pulling victories in nearly every county in Indiana and getting as much as 70 percent of the vote in at least two counties.

By comparison, Bayh won mostly in Democratic strongholds, such as northwestern Indiana, Indianapolis and Monroe County. But even when he won, he never broke more than about 60 percent of the vote.

The race for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District also turned out a lot less close than people had predicted. U.S. Rep.-elect Trey Hollingsworth pulled in 54 percent of the vote, beating Democrat Shelli Yoder by about 44,000 votes and nearly 14 percentage points in a race that had been statistically tied in polling.

Hollingsworth had his strongest lead in Johnson County, which traditionally is Republican territory and was the only county to have more voters turn out to the polls than Monroe County. In that county, he was ahead by a little more than 22,000 votes.

Outside Monroe County, which Yoder won, Hollingsworth garnered at least 51 percent of the vote in other counties and up to a high of 69 percent of the vote in Morgan County.

Those weren’t the only races that defied expectations, Helmke said.

Most people expected Trump to win Indiana by 10 points or less, he said, rather than 19, in a race that pitted him against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“When it’s that high, you don’t even get close races,” Helmke said — not even in a state where people are known to split tickets.

Although not everyone has called it a wave, Helmke pointed out similarities to the 1980 election, when Birch Bayh (Evan Bayh’s father) was defeated after having won re-election twice. The factor that year: victorious Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

But Helmke and others “certainly never expected a Trump wave,” he said.

Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, added that turnout also likely was a factor.

“I think a big chunk of the answer is good turnout for Republicans, bad turnout for Democrats,” he said, adding that final data will show whether that holds true.

People saw early voting numbers and thought there would be a high turnout, and they ended up being wrong, Downs said.

“They are people who would have voted on Election Day. They simply have turned out early,” he said. “There has been no expansion of the electorate.”

That at least was true in Monroe County, where early voting numbers set records, but the final turnout fell short of the 2008 election. More than 50 percent of all ballots were cast before Election Day.

Helmke agreed, saying the number seemed to indicate a smaller turnout among minority voters, especially African-Americans.

“If there’s not the enthusiasm for the top of the ticket, then those people aren’t voting for senator and governor and everything else,” he said.