CROWN POINT | Leaders of Lake County's political parties are drawing comfort from the recent surge of early voters in advance of Tuesday's general election.
Republican Chairwoman Kim Krull and Democratic Chairman Thomas McDermott Jr. said the trend likely will push their candidates to victory in various races.
Krull said, "We expect to see somewhere around 16 percent voter turnout in absentee, in person and mail ballots by the (Monday) deadline. The party looks forward to celebrating many victories on election night, including Mitt Romney and Richard Mourdock.
"After the first presidential debate, we were inundated with requests for Romney signs," Krull said. "Since Indiana is not considered a battleground state, we were not given many signs from the Romney campaign. So we had to special-order them. We see that as a great indicator that many people will be coming out to vote for Republican candidates that may not have come out in 2008."
McDermott, who also serves as mayor of Hammond, said his optimism has grown with the lines outside the county's six in-person voting locations.
"Three weeks ago, I would have been pessimistic, but I'm starting to get the feel now that people are more excited, are starting to dig in and taking advantage of early voting opportunities, which is great," he said.
McDermott sees victory for almost all Democratic candidates on the ballot, including Surveyor George Van Til, who McDermott previously said could be a millstone around the party's neck following an FBI raid in May on Van Til's office. McDermott said he now regrets those remarks.
"I think President Obama is going to win, but I'm more nervous about statewide races because this is a hostile state for Democrats," McDermott said.
McDermott and Krull are pinning these prospects on the early voting booths.
An average of just 685 ballots were being cast daily three weeks ago. That number has accelerated to between 1,562 and 1,736 per day in the last week.
The county election board indicates more than 26,000 had cast ballots between Oct. 9 and Nov. 1, about 8 percent of the county's registered voters.
However, it would take an epic burst of voting to match the 215,062 ballots cast four years ago, a 71 percent tsunami that floated all local Democratic candidates to easy victories.
"The turnout will be bigger than any election in the last three years, but I don't think we are going to hit the numbers we had in 2008," McDermott said. "That was truly an exceptional year."
Democratic prospects also are dimmed in suburban legislative and commissioner races by a Republican-controlled legislative redrawing of district lines that concentrated once-dispersed Republican voting blocks.
Krull said, "The state representative races are very competitive thanks to the redistricting. Lake County needs (state representatives) downstate who work with the majority and not run from their jobs. (Rep. Mara Candelaria-Reardon) and (Rep. Shelli) VanDenburgh were too busy playing in the pool in Urbana, Ill., when we needed them,” Krull said in reference to walkouts by Democratic legislators to protest the Republican legislative agenda.
McDermott said, "The damage is done as far as the new district boundaries are concerned, but I think Mara Candelaria-Reardon is going to beat (Republian) Bill Fine, even though Mara's 12th House District is 48 percent Democrat, 52 percent Republican.
"The 15th District was drawn for (Republican) Hal Slager, who just assumed he was going to walk into that position. Little did they know we had a great candidate in that district named Tom O'Donnell, a lawyer who pulls support from both sides of the aisles. He's probably hit 10,000 doors by now."
McDermott said, "Shelli has a tough opponent (Republican Ron Johnson). I'm worried about that race because that's one of the tougher districts we have, but in 2010 nobody gave Shelli a chance and she went out there and won. I can assure you Shelli is working hard. Hopefully, she can do it again."
McDermott said he also expects a Democratic victory in the 2nd District Lake County commissioner race.
"I realize (Republican Jerry) Tippy is a good person, but I don't see how Gerry Scheub — one of the best campaigners in Lake County — loses."