AP NEWS

Shine says base will back Smith

May 12, 2019

Tim Smith, Fort Wayne’s Republican mayoral nominee, beat his opponent by carrying about 75% of the city’s election precincts during Tuesday’s primary. 

Smith, a MedPro executive, won the majority of votes cast by residents who live in 143 of the city’s 191 precincts, an unofficial report from the Allen County Election Board shows. Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, won the majority of votes in 39. Nine precincts resulted in a tie. 

That means Smith carried the majority of votes in each of the six City Council districts. Smith performed particularly well in District 1, a strong Republican district represented by Councilman Paul Ensley. 

Smith ended up with 9,065 votes to Crawford’s 6,776. 

It’s hard to say what caused more voters to prefer Smith, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne. It could be, Downs guessed, that Smith generated a lot of interest within specific demographics, increasing the number of voters who cast ballots.

“Whether that’s young people, old people, economic conservatives, he had some appeal across the board that did help motivate higher turnout,” Downs said. 

In total, 26,624 of Allen County’s 185,521 registered voters cast ballots across both party primaries : about 14.4% of registered voters.

A win by the margin Smith enjoyed hasn’t happened in other Republican mayoral primaries in recent years, Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine said. GOP primaries dating to the 1999 race between former Allen County Sheriff Joe Squadrito and Linda Buskirk have been close. Shine said those races resulted in a fractured Republican Party heading into the fall campaign. 

Shine predicted that won’t happen this time. 

“Getting that many votes so convincingly and of such a great margin among the Republican rank-and-file eliminates a problem of how to convince the Republican base to support you,” Shine said. 

Primary elections in 1999, 2007 and 2011 were more contentious, Shine said. That meant it was harder for voters to coalesce around a single candidate in the general election. 

“I feel this time it’s going to be an easier task,” Shine said, noting that Crawford has been gracious and humble in defeat.

“I think those coupled with the fact that he is the consummate professional and gentleman will result, hopefully, in his supporting the ticket for mayor all the way down to the council races,” he said. 

That Smith did very well in traditionally Republican areas such as Districts 1-4, and made strides in the less conservative Districts 5 and 6 speaks to the campaign’s data-driven strategy, campaign manager Nick Lauritsen said.

Part of that strategy was to track who was voting early. 

Smith won among early voters, but lost among absentee voters.

That’s due to when the absentee ballots were cast, Lauritsen said. 

“We had a lot of energy near the end of the race when the momentum was on our side,” he said.

Crawford said his campaign “tried everything,” including knocking on 9,527 doors across the city.

In the end, however, Crawford said the campaign tone mattered more than any metrics and analysis his campaign could have done. In the waning days of the campaign, Smith ran ads criticizing Crawford’s voting record, particularly in the area of taxes.

Crawford decried those advertisements as negative. 

He acknowledged that negative campaigning works, but could have consequences in future elections. Crawford said Fort Wayne campaigns could become all about negativity and attacking each other, something that “produces more heat than light.”

It’s also going to be hard for sitting council members to cast difficult votes if they know they’re going to be savaged by their opponent in the next election, Crawford said. Negative campaigning could also discourage otherwise viable candidates from entering local politics, he added. 

Regardless, Crawford said he’s not going to let Tuesday’s results get to him.

“I have always voted for what I thought was best for the community, regardless of the personal political cost,” he said. “Because of that, I have zero regrets.”

dgong@jg.net