Democrats looking to chip into GOP's dominance

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Republicans were poised to continue their Indiana political dominance as voters cast this year’s final ballots Tuesday, although Democrats had some chances to claw back to greater relevance.

With President Donald Trump and Gov. Eric Holcomb appearing as likely Republican wins, Democrats concentrated their fall campaigns on capturing the state attorney general’s office and a central Indiana congressional seat that’s competitive after decades as a GOP bastion.

A record number of more than 1.7 million voters have cast ballots ahead of Election Day as coronavirus health concerns prompted more use of mail-in ballots and early voting sites. Indiana polling sites opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday in the Eastern time zone, which covers all but northwestern and southwestern Indiana. Polling sites in those areas, which are in the Central time zone, opened an hour later at 6 a.m. local time.

Indiana polling sites will remain open until 6 p.m. local time.


Polling site lines

Lines of voters formed at some polling places in Indianapolis and its suburbs before the doors to those sites opened in the cold, predawn darkness.

About two dozen people were waiting in a line outside downtown Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse when the polling site there opened, said Russell Hollis, deputy director of the Marion County clerk’s office.

“We got those folks in and out pretty quickly,” Hollis said. An hour later, he said there was no line at the fieldhouse and voters were getting in and casting their votes “pretty quickly."

Marion County, which is Indiana’s most populous county and home to Indianapolis, has 187 polling sites. Voters registered in the county can vote at any of those locations, Hollis said.


Governor's race

Holcomb faced plenty of criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic since he first issued a public health emergency in March. Through it all, he kept up his front-runner campaign for a second term with large advantages of name identification, fundraising and organization.

Democratic challenger Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, argued Holcomb has been too passive by not imposing penalties for those not wearing face masks in public and for lifting nearly all coronavirus restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes in September just as the state saw steep increases in coronavirus-related deaths, infections and hospitalizations.

Some conservatives around the state angry with Holcomb over his COVID-19 actions rallied around Libertarian Donald Rainwater, who maintained the governor was infringing on individual rights.


Presidential voting

Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, appeared securely in President Donald Trump’s column as Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign paid little attention to the state that has gone for Republican candidates in 12 of the last 13 presidential elections.

Trump won Indiana by 19 percentage points in 2016 over Hillary Clinton. Republicans admitted his popularity had eroded in some areas, contributing to a contentious campaign for a longtime GOP-controlled congressional district in suburban Indianapolis that Democrats were trying to capture.


Attorney general

Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita is trying to extend the Republican hold on the state attorney general’s office against Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel, a former Evansville mayor.

Rokita narrowly won the Republican nomination over current Attorney General Curtis Hill, whose law license was suspended by the state Supreme Court over allegations that he drunkenly groped four women during a party.

Weinzapfel was aiming to break the complete control Republicans have had on statewide offices the past four years and become the first Democrat to win a statewide election since 2012. Rokita, a contentious conservative, was looking for a political comeback after losing the 2018 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Hot U.S. House race

Indiana’s highest-profile congressional race in years has Republican Victoria Spartz facing Democrat Christina Hale for central Indiana’s 5th District seat following the retirement of current GOP Rep. Susan Brooks.

At least $15 million was sunk into the race, with national party organizations and dark-money groups spending heavily for the district centered on the northern suburbs of Indianapolis that Republicans have controlled for more than five decades.

Spartz won a crowded Republican primary race that largely turned into a contest of loyalty to Trump. But she afterward shifted away from talking about Trump during the general election campaign.

Meanwhile, Democrat Frank Mrvan is heavily favored to win election to replace retiring Rep. Pete Visclosky in the party’s 1st District northwestern Indiana stronghold. A change in party control was unlikely in the state’s seven other U.S. House seats.

State legislature

The northern Indianapolis suburbs were also the site of several hotly contested races for state legislative seats where Democrats were seeking to oust Republican lawmakers.

Those included Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston, who was facing voters in his Fishers district for the first time since taking over the top legislative position in March.

Republicans were likely to retain strong majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, but Democrats have a chance to break the two-thirds GOP supermajority in the House that gives them total control over legislative action.