SOUTHERN INDIANA — Straight-party ballots were at the top of observers' minds Wednesday after an historic midterm that saw voters turn out in shocking numbers for an off-year election.
What happened locally Tuesday night was a reflection of the tone nationally, with more Southern Indiana voters embracing a conservative Republican agenda than those who sought to sweep a so-called "blue wave" of Democrats into office.
A whopping 52 percent of the more than 32,000 ballots cast in Floyd County were straight-party tickets, while 38 percent of the nearly 44,000 ballots cast in Clark County went for a straight ticket.
Statewide voter turnout numbers weren't available Wednesday, but an official with the Secretary of State's Office said it could be the highest midterm election turnout of the 21st century in Indiana.
"I feel like what was happening nationally did trickle down to Clark County," said Clark County Clerk Susan Popp, a Democrat who beat Republican challenger Darci Schiller in a close race, capturing 51 percent of the vote to Schiller's 49 percent. "I feel like people were a lot more straight party rather than looking at candidates and what they had to offer. I think they were looking at political parties over qualifications."
Depending on the political climate, either party could benefit from straight-party voters. It just so happened Tuesday that Republicans were the beneficiaries, with the GOP ousting two Democratic Floyd County officeholders, and several Republican county-level candidates snatching victories in Clark County.
"Unfortunately it affects us positively and negatively," said Shawn Carruthers, chairman of the Floyd County Republican Party. "We were able to benefit this time on a positive level as a Republican Party."
Carruthers noted that the U.S. Senate race, in which political newcomer and Republican Mike Braun easily beat Democrat incumbent Joe Donnelly, and the politically charged Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings "woke up and recharged the Republican base in Floyd County and across Indiana and got people to the polls," he said. "I think that drove a lot of the straight-party ticket voting."
In Clark County there were 9,557 Republican straight-party tickets cast, as opposed to 6,871 Democrat straight-party tickets. The gap was similar in Floyd County, with 9,261 Republican straight-party tickets against 7,275 Democratic straight-party ballots.
That spelled doom for Floyd County Clerk Christy Eurton, who narrowly lost Tuesday to Republican challenger Danita Burks, with 108 votes separating the two.
"It's kind of hard to overcome straight-party tickets," said Eurton, who will not seek a recount.
Eurton, who has served as clerk since 2013 and has worked at the clerk's office for 20 years, faces an uncertain future.
"A day after the election things haven't quite sunk in, so to speak," she said. "I've given the county 20 years and at times I feel like I've given it 20 years of my life. You're literally here to serve the public and serve their needs. That's something that's going to be hard to walk away from."
Patricia "Trish" Badger-Byrd, the Floyd County assessor, was the other Democrat incumbent county officeholder to fall Tuesday. She lost to Republican James Sinks by just 155 votes.
Badger-Byrd said she is not sure whether she will petition for a recount, and will make up her mind in the next day or two.
"I'm thinking the process through and taking it all in from yesterday," she said Wednesday. "It's such a shock that someone with no experience would win. I'm trying to think it all through before I decide."
Of the 10 contested county-level races in Clark County, Republicans won seven of them: Danny Yost (auditor); Terry Conway (recorder); R. Monty Snelling (treasurer); Jamey Noel (sheriff); Butch Love (assessor); Brittney Ferree (county council district 3); and Steve Doherty (county council district 4).
"I was really excited at how well all the candidates did," said Noel, Clark County Republican Party chairman. "The races that we lost were pretty close. It shows people how important it is to vote. Sometimes a handful of votes makes the difference."
Kate Miller, chairwoman of the Clark County Democratic Party, took heart in Rita Fleming's victory over Republican Matt Owen in the District 71 House race, as well as Janne Newland capturing the county council district 2 seat and Popp's win to retain the clerk's office.
"I think with some of the county races it's pretty evident that the things going on in the nation are affecting us in the county," Miller said. "That's unfortunate, because I truly believe we had the most qualified candidates on our ticket."
According to Noel, the straight-party votes were not just a stamp of approval on President Donald Trump's Make America Great Again platform, but the Republican Party's direction as a whole.
"I think Republican voters are energized," Noel said. "Some people might say Trump supporters, but I'd say just Republicans in general. That's pretty exciting. Clark County has changed dramatically in the last 10 years."
Regardless of party affiliation, there is no debate that Tuesday night was an historic election, with Floyd County's voter turnout topping 55 percent, and Clark County's exceeding 49 percent.
"I thought it was a very strong turnout, a strong turnout on both sides," Popp said. "It wasn't just one party or the other. I think both parties were very engaged in the election."