The large victories the Republican party saw nationwide following the results of Tuesday’s elections were felt on the local level in Northwest Indiana as well, especially in La Porte County - normally a Democratic stronghold.
The most noticeable takeaway from the election in La Porte County is the difference in the number of straight-ticket voters, most notably the decline of those who used the “Punch 10” option for a straight Democratic ticket.
Despite a sponsored campaign on social media and on billboards throughout Michigan City and La Porte, the number of voters who punched 10 declined significantly from the last local election year. While more than 4,000 voted straight Democratic in the 2012 election, this year’s number was 2,727. Online encouragement to “vote for the candidate, not the party” from the likes of Democratic County Councilman Earl Cunningham, Citybythelake.org and others likely helped deter the number of straight-ticket voters. 2,350 voted straight Republican (Punch 9), which was around normal - but the decline in Punch 10 voters without a doubt helped Republicans win key elections such as La Porte County Commissioner 1, County Sheriff and Judge of La Porte Superior Court No. 3. Democrats Randy Novak and Mark Yagelski did get easy victories in County Council races, but so did Terry Garner, a Republican who faced off against current Sheriff Mike Mollenhauer.
The straight-party voting was more prevalent in Porter and Lake counties, however. In Porter County, 7,936 voted straight Republican against 7,743 straight-Democratic voters. In Democratic Lake County, it was no surprise that more than 28,000 voted for all Democrats while only 11,607 hit Punch 9 at the top of their ballot.
Lake and Porter counties may border each other, but find themselves on the extreme ends of the traditional political system. In Porter County, Republicans continued to hold the advantage with Brian Gensel (Prosecutor), Karen Martin (County Clerk) and Chuck Harris (Coroner) all winning with majority margins. Lake County, as expected, voted heavily for the Democrats, although Eldon Strong retained his spot on the County Council and Daniel Dernulc pulled an upset on incumbent Democrat Tom O’Donnell.
The increased GOP presence in Northwest Indiana may have also had an effect on Us. Congressman Pete Visclosky. Not on the outcome, of course. He always wins (this year’s re-election was his 16th - having now served the area for more than three decades). But on the percent total. We are all too used to seeing Visclosky handle District 1 with some 80 percent of the vote, but this year, it was somewhat less. In Lake County, Visclosky garnered 63 percent of the vote, in La Porte County 59 percent, and in Porter County 54 percent.
As mentioned before, the Republicans came up big nationally. The GOP retained control of the House of Representatives, gained control of the U.S. Senate and saw big gubernatorial victories in traditional “blue” states like Massachusetts and Illinois. Sam Brownback, the Republican governor of Kansas thought to be in trouble, picked up a tough win over Democrat Paul Davis in that race, too.
But while the Republicans won the head-to-head races going away, specific issues such as abortion access, legalized marijuana and the raising of the minimum wage went the way of traditional left-thinkers. Colorado rejected a bill that would define “Personhood” as beginning at the time of conception, Alaska, the District of Columbia and Oregon all voted to legalize recreational marijuana and a number of states voted “yes” on raising the minimum wage, including our neighbor Illinois - which upped that number to $10 an hour.
One trend that all parties should see as positive is the voter turnout across the region. For a non-Presidential election year, turnout was especially high in all three counties. Voters in Porter County turned out to the tune of 35.09 percent, while La Porte County saw 31.19 percent of its registered voters cast a ballot. Lake County, while the lowest in the region, still had an above average turnout at 26.62 percent.