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Column: Campaign dollars important in primary outcome

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A strong correlation existed between the amount of campaign dollars raised and a local candidate’s demeanor at victory parties Tuesday night.

Columbus Police Lt. Matt Myers, winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary for county sheriff, raised about $31,000 through the April 12 reporting period, getting 33 percent of donor dollars spent on this race, tops among the four candidates. He got 37 percent of the votes, also tops.

Maj. Todd Noblitt, second in command as chief deputy for the Batholomew County Sheriff’s Department, finished second in fundraising at about $27,200, or 29 percent of the money raised on this race. He also finished second in voting, with 31 percent of the ballots cast.

Sgt. T.A. Smith, another sheriff’s deputy, was third in fundraising with about $23,600, or 26 percent of the money raised in this race. He also finished third in the voting, with 23 percent of the ballots cast.

Sgt. Dean Johnson, the third deputy in the race, finished fourth in fundraising with about $10,700, or 12 percent of the money raised. He also finished fourth in the voting, with 9 percent of the ballots cast.

Was cash the Tuesday difference-maker? Let’s examine that further.

It seemed to be a factor in the State House race for District 59 among Republican primary voters. Incumbent Milo Smith came into the election with a $30,200 war chest, nearly double that of challenger Ryan Lauer’s $16,300. Smith raised 65 percent of the money to Lauer’s 35 percent. In the share of votes, Smith got 59 percent to Lauer’s 41 percent.

The votes weren’t close, but the correlation between cash and ballot support was.

Like with the sheriff, the incumbent county clerk was prevented from seeking a third term because of term limits. So that pitted two non-incumbents from inside the clerk’s office against each other.

Jay Phelps raised 59 percent of the money in this race to Karen Aud’s 41 percent. And Phelps got 55 percent of the vote to Aud’s 45 percent. Those numbers line up neatly.

There was one major local race where there wasn’t a correlation between campaign dollars and winning percentage, and that was in the three-person Republican battle for Superior Court 2 judge.

Incumbent Kathleen “Kitty” Coriden, the winner with 43 percent of the vote, was last in fundraising with about $11,600, or 28 percent of dollars raised. Greg Long, who led in campaign dollars with 42 percent, finished second in voting with 34 percent. Jeff Logston, second in campaign money at 30 percent of the pie, finished third in voting with 24 percent.

As the incumbent, Coriden had name recognition in her favor, representing a family with strong local Democratic Party connections until her affiliation switch when filing for re-election earlier in the year. It’s difficult to assess how her political-affiliation change affected the results, but it seemed to be more important to voters we heard from than any other campaign issue that the candidates discussed leading into Tuesday.

Was there something other than money that impacted who voters supported in this year’s primary?

I would say yes, but it’s not as easy to quantify as following the money.

Incumbents in countywide races — or their seconds-in-command for those prevented to run again because of term limits — were fighting for their political lives on Tuesday.

The two incumbents for Batholomew County Council pulled out close victories, but not before going through some anxious moments.

County Council District 1 representative Chris Ogle had an early lead before newcomer Marcus Speer pulled ahead late in the night, only to have Ogle escape with a 42-vote win and 51 percent of the vote.

County Council District 4 representative Jorge Morales led throughout the night, but only barely. He finished with 35 percent of the vote, and challengers Paul Nolting and Paul Franke each finished about 2 percentage points behind. Franke, a former council member and commissioner, got into the race late in the game, upset about resistance among council members to pay for a new County Annex building, among other things. Morales won by a mere 44 votes over Nolting and 61 votes over Franke.

Noblitt and Aud, in line to succeed their bosses, both finished second instead to candidates without a long connection to those departments.

People complained about the low turnout Tuesday, but the voting volume wasn’t much different than the most recent comparable primary four years ago, at just under 20 percent of registered voters.

Interest in the campaign sure was high by The Republic’s measurements, however. Tuesday’s page views of online election night results and other primary content ranked in the top 10 stories of the past year, with results posted between 7 and 10 p.m. that night especially strong.

It was a pretty exciting night all around, unless you happened to be a Democrat running for town council in Elizabethtown or Clifford.

Elizabethtown incumbent Fred Barnett got all of the Democratic votes cast in that race — 4, securing a spot in the November general election.

In Clifford, Democratic incumbents Edward Stone and Danny James also advanced. Stone got 4 votes in his victory. James got 1. If James voted for himself, that was all he needed. These two will face Clifford newcomer Edward Stone, who got 12 votes as a Republican candidate and also advanced to November.

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