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Lake County Advancement Committee Political Forum

From left, Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana; Andrew Downs, director of the Fort Wayne-based Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics; Dan Carden, of The Times; and Doug Ross, of The Times, Friday at the Lake County Advancement Committee's political forum.

SCHERERVILLE — Political analysts debated Friday whether this year's elections will deliver a blue wave of Democrats, a pink wave of female candidates or leave this red state's Republicans comfortably in charge of state politics.

Dan Carden, The Times' Statehouse bureau chief, told a group of political and business leaders at the April meeting of the Lake County Advancement Committee, "Things probably aren't going to change that much at the Statehouse. You are probably looking at a Republican-controlled House and Senate."

Carden, Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, and Andrew Downs, of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Fort Wayne's Indiana University-Purdue University, looked back at the Indiana General Assembly, this spring's campaigns and forward to the general election this fall. 

They said there are expectations Republicans, who captured the White House and hold a super-majority in the Indiana Statehouse, may experience a voter backlash this year because of the routine surge and decline of a party control of government.

"Looking at the seats in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties, Republicans in the Indiana House like (15th District state Rep.) Hal Slager and (19th District state Rep.) Julie Olthoff are the ones who may be facing a tough fall," Howey said.

Downs said there are reasons to temper that kind of thinking. "In 2016, the Republicans didn't see the kind of surge you would have expected given President Trump's victory. Maybe this year's wave won't be as big as people are thinking."

Hundreds of women are running in national legislative races, and 75 women are running for the General Assembly this year.

"When you look at the pink wave, there is a lot of reason to think there won't be a big gender change, because a fair percentage of the women are running in districts for the minority party's nomination and the chance of winning is pretty slim to begin with," Downs said.

"At the state level, we have already seen majority (Republican) control longer than ever in history. We are now looking at the longest super-majority run a party has ever had in 200 years of Indiana politics."

Added Howey, "For Indiana Democrats, this is an absolutely crucial year. They have to start making some inroads, particularly in the House, which is like the Sahara Desert for Democrats."

He said the Republican-dominated General Assembly redrew district boundaries in 2011 to create "some very durable Republican seats. We only have two Democratic congressional districts in Indiana. The state used to be a place where five or six congressional seats would flip every decade," Howey said.

"It is even more monolithic in the Indiana General Assembly. Beyond Lake, Porter, St. Joseph, Marion counties and the college towns, there are no rural Democrats left in the Indiana General Assembly."

Downs added, "Either that is just the way the state is, or the (map) work was masterful. Take your pick."


Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.