By MATT THACKER
CLARK COUNTY —
Democrats are still reeling as Republicans are celebrating several major wins in Clark County.
The Democratic Party has long dominated the political scene locally, but on Tuesday it was Republicans who were celebrating at the American Legion in Jeffersonville.
Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Rod Pate described it on Wednesday as a “butt whoopin’” as Republicans were able to ride the wave of national momentum in favor of the GOP.
“That was just the mood nationally,” he said.
The mood swing was clearly seen in the number of people who voted straight ticket. On Tuesday, 19.8 percent of voters were straight-party Republican in Clark County compared to 19.3 percent who went Democrat.
In 2008, 20.2 percent of voters went straight-ticket Democrat compared to 17.7 percent with Republican. The gap was even wider in 2006 when 23.7 percent went Democrat and 16.6 percent Republican.
Pate said he was surprised when reviewing the results the day after the election.
“I looked at those numbers this morning, and I was surprised. There was a lot of crossover,” he said.
Pate said he respects the decision of the voters, although he said it was too early to discuss the future of the party.
Clark County Republican Party Chairman Jamey Noel said it was a “historic day” in Clark County.
“I think it’s historic because it’s no longer a one-party system. This puts checks and balances in place,” he said. “Ten years ago, I think we had one elected Republican in Clark County.”
Noel said, that to his knowledge, no Republican has ever held a constitutional office in Clark County. There will now be two with R. Monty Snelling defeating Janis Caldwell for auditor and David Reinhardt defeating Janet Hurst for treasurer.
Although Noel knew the national discontent with Democrats would benefit local Republicans, he said the candidates deserve credit as well.
“It’s where hard work and preparation met last night,” Noel said. “ I had a lot of candidates that really, really worked hard.”
Noel said he was ecstatic as the wins started coming in, but the election results were not a major surprise for him. He said their polling showed it was dead even between those who identified as Republican or Democrat.
He did not share his confidence with others.
“I didn’t want anyone to get complacent,” he said. “You don’t want to quit running. You want to give it 110 percent.”
Noel said voters are starting to realize there are viable Republican options, and more Republican primary races are now contested.
“We’ve done a good job rebuilding the party,” he said.
Clark County has always been mostly conservative on national issues despite voting for Democrats locally.
“It’s a fairly conservative area really, so in that sense, the conservative tide didn’t really surprise me,” said Joe Wert, dean of the School of Social Sciences at Indiana University Southeast.
“I think that reflects the discontent or anger a lot of people have here with the Obama administration, and that has trickled down to the local level,” Wert said.
IUS political science professor Thomas P. Wolf said he was shocked that Democratic State Representative Paul Robertson and State Senator Jim Lewis were defeated.
“I was just shocked,” he said. “I thought if anyone would survive the Republican swing, they would.”
Wolf said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that cleared the way for campaign contributions from corporations had an impact Tuesday. He said the decision led to an “unprecedented” campaign season and benefited Republicans.
“The old plea to cut taxes and stop spending got an incredible bonus,” he said.
Wolf said two friends, both retired political scientists, expressed their displeasure with the amount of money spent this election season and the number of lies spread about the candidates. He said one of his friends said he will stop following politics because it has become too disgraceful.
“This may be only a prelude to what we can expect in forthcoming elections,” he said.
Wolf said it is a bleak outlook for Democrats in Indiana because Republicans will be able to control reapportionment.
“It’s going to put the Democrats at a severe disadvantage for the next 10 years,” he said.
Wolf said he expects the momentum nationally will swing back in favor of Democrats if unemployment rates remain high with Republicans leading the House of Representatives and not allowing legislation to pass to the Senate.
Wert said it will now be up to Republicans to demonstrate that they have answers to the many problems facing the country.
This was the first time in more than 60 years that the party in power of the U.S. House of Representatives has been removed in three straight elections.
“I think there’s long been dissatisfaction with the two parties,” Wert said. “The approval rating for Congress has been abysmally low.”
Wert said he believes voters are sending a clear message to both parties: “We’ll try someone else if you can’t fix it.”