Local Democrats could only watch impassively as the gains they had made in the Bartholomew County political landscape during city elections last year were trumped by a Republican general election local sweep.
Gathering Tuesday night at Hotel Indigo in a celebratory mood, the Democratic party faithful seemed a little stunned to see early voting totals showing a substantial Republican lead in every Bartholomew County race, with the leads expanding as more results came in through the night.
Tuesday’s election in Bartholomew County was the highest voter turnout in the county’s history, something that could normally favor a Democratic victory or two, said Nancy Ann Brown Poynter, Democratic Party chairwoman.
But that wasn’t the case in Tuesday’s election.
“The amount of people who were coming out and voting increased our chances,” the chairwoman said, but ultimately, the theory of more voters favoring Democratic candidates didn’t pan out.
“It was the Trump effect,” Poynter said Wednesday morning after the election totals were in.
Just looking at the absentee ballots — not all of the early voting — about 3,500 Bartholomew County residents voted straight-ticket Republican, she said.
“You could just see it starting there,” Poynter said.
“We had a slate of some of the best Democratic candidates in several years. They are well educated and experienced and had a willingness to step forward to do things for the county,” the chairwoman said.
“They put their names on the line and ran hard campaigns, and they lost,” she said. “But they are still willing to work for the county and will be the first to say, ‘Here I am, choose me, I’ll help.’ ”
Bartholomew County Republican Chairwoman Barb Hackman said Republicans had not taken anything for granted in Tuesday’s county races.
“When the Democrats were able to get a couple of their candidates on the Columbus City Council, it revived them,” she said. “They have been working tirelessly.”
Hackman said she was pleased the Republican candidates went out and worked hard as well in the campaign.
“They knew they needed to because we haven’t had this much opposition for quite some time. I didn’t see much negativity from our candidates. But there have been a few times in the past when we’ve seen more negativity in the primary against each other than we have in the general election,” she said.
The local ballot for Democrats was led by Bob Pitman, who was challenging Republican incumbent Milo Smith for the District 59 Statehouse seat representing most of Bartholomew County.
Democrats turned to that race first when looking for a bright spot anywhere in the election results. They were initially surprised by Smith’s 59 percent-to-41 percent lead after early voting results came in. When the split widened to a final result of 61 percent for Smith to 38 percent for Pitman, Democrats were visibly disappointed.
Even Pitman admitted it was disappointing to feel so good about a campaign and all the financial support he had received only to see Smith begin ahead and stay there throughout election night.
Pitman said in the end, the Donald Trump effect on Indiana’s vote was simply too much for Democratic candidates to overcome.
If the Trump backing hadn’t been so dominant, the local races might have been more competitive, Pitman said.
The Republic reporter Mark Webber contributed to this report.
Stratight party votes
The number of unofficial straight party Bartholomew County votes cast in Tuesday’s election, by party:
Total votes cast: 33,196
Total number of registered voters in Bartholomew County: 55,491
Turnout: 59.82 percent
How you voted
Bartholomew County unofficial results:
Donald J. Trump (R);20,637
Hillary Clinton (D);9,841
Gary Johnson (L);1,911
Local Republicans are already organizing a trip to Washington D.C. on Jan. 20 for the inauguration of Columbus native Gov. Mike Pence as the next vice president.
Bartholomew County Republican Chairwoman Barb Hackman said plans for the trip were underway even before Tuesday’s election, beginning shortly after Pence became President-elect Donald Trump’s vice presidential pick.
About 16 local residents have already expressed interest in going on the trip, Hackman said. Details on where the group will stay and prices are still being assembled.
Hackman said the group is checking with the Pence family to determine if the Columbus delegation can have a reception with the new vice president during the festivities.