I don’t know that Indiana has a bellwether county, one that has gotten it right all the time when it comes to voting for presidents. I don’t even know the name of the county that has gotten it right more than any other.
I just know that Bartholomew County is — to borrow Donald Trump terminology — a loser in going with future White House occupants.
My goodness, our ancestors missed out on Abraham Lincoln — considered by many to have been our best president — not just once but both times he ran. To compound it, the county went with Gen. George McClellan, a Civil War leader many historians consider to be one of the worst in history.
Even when the county went with a winner, its collective judgment came into question. The widest winning margin for a presidential candidate in Bartholomew County belongs to Richard Nixon, who whopped Democrat George McGovern in 1972 by 10,391 votes (17,365 to 6,974). Less than two years later, the winner resigned in disgrace.
We really got it wrong in the county’s first venture into presidential politics in 1824 (three years after the county was formed). In Bartholomew County, there was a heated race between Whig Henry Clay of Kentucky and Democrat Andrew Jackson, with Clay getting a bare majority of votes 99-96. Way behind them was John Quincy Adams, who was listed as a Democratic Republican. He only got 20 votes, but since no one was able to claim enough electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which put Adams into the White House for the next four years.
Anyone looking to Bartholomew County for clues about Tuesday’s primary races in the national Republican and Democratic contests would be well-advised to look elsewhere. Of the 47 November elections in which Bartholomew County has participated, local voters backed the wrong horse 18 times. Right now the county is on a two-election losing streak, having stuck with Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney, who both lost to Barack Obama.
Some might attribute the county’s so-so record to its Republican leanings, which have been pretty apparent in recent decades. In fact, the county has chosen the Republican ticket in every one of the presidential elections since 1968.
That’s not to say that the county has always been colored deep red. For instance, it was part of Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s landslide win over Barry Goldwater in 1964 by a margin of 12,940 to 11,026.
It also was in Franklin Roosevelt’s corner (most of the time) during the New Deal years. The New York Democrat carried the county in his first three presidential elections. The county even turned against a fellow Hoosier (Rushville’s Wendell Willkie) in 1940. FDR’s local winning streak was halted in 1944 when New York’s Thomas Dewey outpolled him here, but by a close 550 votes. Apparently local voters thought three terms were enough for a president.
The county liked to be part of a surprise as well. In 1948 it went against the grain in choosing incumbent Democrat Harry Truman over the aforementioned Dewey. That was the election in which the Chicago Tribune ran the famous post-election headline, “Dewey beats Truman.”
It’s fair to say that Bartholo-mew County leaned Republican throughout the 20th and now into the 21st centuries. Democrats have carried the county only seven times since the 1900 election.
On the other hand, the county was pretty firmly in what was then called the Democratic Party throughout the 19th century. In fact it went with the Democrats for 12 of 13 elections from 1844 to 1892. Even in the 13th contest it turned against the GOP, choosing Horace Greeley — who was labeled as a Liberal Republican — over U.S. Grant.
Personal visits by presidential candidates to certain areas often are viewed as important in carrying not only that area but the state as well. Bartholomew County has been graced with visits from a number of candidates over the years, but few have really changed many minds. Most recently then-Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech at Columbus East High School during the 2008 primary, but John McCain took the county in the fall election.
A slew of Democrats (including Sens. Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy) descended on the county for the 1968 primary, but none of their names were listed on the November ballot. In fact the winner of the local Democratic primary was Indiana Gov. Roger Branigin, who was a stand-in for Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
The only recent Republican presidential candidate to make a campaign stop in the county was Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who spoke to a huge crowd from the back of his whistle stop train but ended up losing the county to President Lyndon Johnson.
The 2016 presidential candidates have only a few days to stop in Bartholomew County at this point in the election. They might be better off to stay away, based on past performances.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Bartholomew County votes in presidential elections:
1824 – Henry Clay (Whig) 99; Andrew Jackson (Democrat) 96; John Quincy Adams (Democratic-Republican) 20.
1828 – Andrew Jackson (D) 445; John Q. Adams (D-R) 235.
1832 – Andrew Jackson (D) 489; Henry Clay (W) 372.
1836 – William H. Harrison (W) 608; Martin Van Buren (D) 412.
1840 – William H. Harrison (W) 982; Martin Van Buren (D) 703.
1844 – James K. Polk (D) 1,068; Henry Clay (W) 1,035.
1848 – Lewis Cass (D) 1,167; Zachary Taylor (W) 1,011; Martin Van Buren (Free Soil) 20.
1852 – Franklin Pierce (D) 1,512; Winfield Scott (W) 1,245.
1856 – James Buchanan (D) 1,844; John Fremont (R) 1,292; Millard Fillmore (Native American) 142.
1860 – Stephen Douglas (D) 1,846; Abraham Lincoln (R) 1,769; John Breckenridge (State Rights) 66; John Bell (Union) 34.
1864 – George McClellan (D) 2,051; Abraham Lincoln (R) 1,645.
1868 – Horatio Seymour (D) 2,510; Ulysses Grant (R) 2,010.
1872 – Horace Greeley (Liberal Republican) 2,442; U.S. Grant (R) 2,015.
1876 – Samuel Tilden (D) 2,810; Rutherford B. Hayes (R) 2,326.
1880 – Winfield Scott Hancock (D) 2,930; James A. Garfield (R) 2,575.
1884 – Grover Cleveland (D) 2,918; James G. Blaine (R) 2,613.
1888 – Grover Cleveland (D) 3,109; Benjamin Harrison (R) 2,762.
1892 – Grover Cleveland (D) 3,175; Benjamin Harrison (R) 2,782.
1896 – William McKinley (R) 3,245; William Jennings Bryan (D) 3,177.
1900 – William McKinley (R) 3,252; William Jennings Bryan (D) 3,247.
1904 – Theodore Roosevelt (R) 3,510; Alton Parker (D) 3,038.
1908 – William Jennings Bryan (D) 2,627; William Howard Taft (R) 2,306; Eugene Debs (Socialist) 59.
1912 – Woodrow Wilson (D) 3,148; Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose) 1,604; William Howard Taft (R) 1,321.
1916 – Woodrow Wilson (D) 3,441; Charles Hughes (R) 3,287.
1920 – Warren G. Harding (R) 6,585; James Cox (D) 5,420.
1924 – Calvin Coolidge (R) 6,547; John Davis (D) 4,689.
1928 – Herbert Hoover (R) 6,788; Al Smith (D) 4,881.
1932 – Franklin Roosevelt (D) 7,445; Herbert Hoover (R) 5,975.
1936 – Franklin Roosevelt (D) 8,536; Alf Landon (R) 6,484.
1940 – Franklin Roosevelt (D) 8,180; Wendell Willkie (R) 7.890.
1944 – Thomas Dewey (R) 7,689; Franklin Roosevelt (D) 7,139.
1948 – Harry Truman (D) 7,960; Thomas Dewey (R) 7,804.
1952 – Dwight Eisenhower (R) 11,462; Adlai Stevenson (D) 7,844.
1956 – Dwight Eisenhower (R) 12,227; Adlai Stevenson (D) 8,134.
1960 – Richard Nixon (R) 13,306; John Kennedy (D) 9,290.
1964 – Lyndon Baines Johnson (D) 12,940; Barry Goldwater (R) 11,026.
1968 – Richard Nixon (R) 13,628; Hubert Humphrey (D) 8,268; George Wallace (American Independent) 2,438.
1972 – Richard Nixon (R) 17,365; George McGovern (D) 6,974.
1976 – Gerald Ford (R) 14,771; Jimmy Carter (D) 11,203.
1980 – Ronald Reagan (R) 15,801; Jimmy Carter (D) 9,260; John B. Anderson (Independent) 1,604.
1984 – Ronald Reagan (R) 18,704; Walter Mondale (D) 8,075.
1988 – George H.W. Bush (R) 17,364; Michael Dukakis (D) 8,804.
1992 – George H.W. Bush (R) 13,146; Bill Clinton (D) 8,284; Ross Perot (Independent) 5,882.
1996 – Robert Dole (R) 13,188; Bill Clinton (D) 9,301.
2000 – George W. Bush (R) 16,200; Al Gore (D) 9,015.
2004 – George W. Bush (R) 18,957; John Kerry (D) 9,128.
2008 – John McCain (R) 17,044; Barack Obama (D) 13,452.
2012 – Mitt Romney (R) 18,083; Barack Obama (D) 10,622.
Information for this chart was compiled from the files of The Republic and its predecessor The Evening Republican and the 1888 History of Bartholomew County.