Dems ride the ‘wave’ in LP County
La PORTE – The so-called “Blue Wave” that flipped control of Congress to the Democrats mostly missed Indiana, though La Porte County certainly seemed to roll with it.
That left county Democratic Party chairman Jim Kimmel feeling pretty good.
“Overall, I’m ecstatic,” Kimmel said Wednesday, adding he wasn’t “totally pleased with the outcomes, but pretty darn close.”
While Republicans took most of Indiana’s statewide races, included reclaiming the U.S. Senate seat, Democrats in the county won two of three contested state legislative seats, two of three contested County Council races, retained the prosecutor’s post and picked up a spot on the Board of Commissioners.
“At the county level, I thought it went very, very, very well,” Kimmel said. “Things turned out pretty much the way I expected.
“I was little disappointed in the races involving Karen Salzer (who lost to Jim Pressel for state representative in District 20), Joe Donnelly (who lost his Senate seat to Mike Braun) and Mel Hall (who lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski), but overall, at the county and state level, the only race we lost was Salzer’s.”
County Republican Chairman Mitch Feikes wasn’t complaining either, though he had to look at the bigger picture.
“Overall I thought we did really well,” he said. “We won the U.S. Senate race, Pressel won again, and Mike Rosenbaum won a council seat. We won a lot of township races, including Scipio Township Trustee (Kaelynn Deckard beating Patricia Kimmel). So overall I think it was a good night for us.”
Voter turnout was huge for a midterm election, with 49 percent of registered voters showing up at the polls. That compares to 31.2 percent in the 2014 midterm, and 38.5 percent in 2010.
Kimmel was glad to see the high number, especially after only 16.2 percent voted in the primary.
“After a dismal turnout in the primary – dead last among 92 counties – I was pleased with the resurgence of voting,” he said. “People realized the importance of this election at the county and national levels.”
But, “I’m not totally satisfied,” he added. “Being Americans it is our right to vote, and I want to see 100 percent turnout.”
Feikes said high turnout, especially in some areas, helped the Democrats, but said that’s just how it is in La Porte County.
“There are some places in the county that are heavily Democratic. Michigan City is heavily Democratic and so many of those wards just vote Democratic no matter what. There are pockets of Democrats in the county and they are in high-population areas so that will always favor them.”
Two of the most closely-watched races – the prosecutor’s contest between John Lake and Christina Espar; and the commisioner’s race between Sheila Brillson and Connie Gramarossa – both went the Dems’ way. Lake won by about 3,300 votes (54.5 to 45.5 percent), and Brillson by just under 800 (51.1 to 48.9 percent).
Feikes said the GOP was “really hoping and expecting to win the commissioner’s race. Connie campaigned hard. She was a good commissioner and she worked hard. She’s feisty, and the board and the taxpayers will miss her.”
Brillson trailed for much of the evening, until early voting totals were announced.
“It became obvious at the last minute that early voters were choosing her,” Kimmel said of the former Michigan City mayor.
He said a lot of people “got hung up on her leaving the mayor’s position, but if people listened to her and knew her, they would know she did it for her family. She did what was right for them. If some people want to hold that against her, then those people need to look in the mirror and ask themselves what they would have done in her situation.”
Brillson, like Lake, “proved that experience does matter,” Kimmel said.
“Gramarossa was a total unknown when she was given that seat and she showed a lack of responsibility, especially on the issue of internet service for rural parts of the county ... Sheila knows that it’s not all just about La Porte and Michigan City. It’s about the rural areas, too. And those areas need good internet.
“In today’s world, it’s important for business, it’s important for youth, it’s important for education. People in rural areas will know that she is working for them and doing all in her power to make it happen.”
As for the persecutor’s race, the most contentious of all, Kimmel said he expected Lake to win, but had “learned to never take anything for granted.”
He said he spoke to “a former county office-holder, someone with 30 years of political experience who’s now retired, and he said it was the ugliest and dirtiest race he’d ever seen.
“When that ad (showing mugshots of criminal suspects and linking them to Lake) came out, I was with the Lakes and John was absolutely livid. He was very unhappy because so much of it was a lie ... to throw someone under the bus like that, it showed the type of people we’re dealing with.”
But in the end, he said, it was an experienced candidate beating an unqualified candidate.
Feikes did not mention the ad, but said the GOP had been “very hopeful” of Espar winning.
“Christina ran a good solid campaign. She and a lot of other people worked very hard on that campaign. And I don’t think she did bad for a first-time candidate.”
Asked if he though the fact Espar ran as a Republican after her father lost in the Democratic primary hurt her, Feikes said “maybe a little.” But “I’m not certain if it hurt or helped. John Lake had a very loyal following and it showed.”
But he called Espar a “solid young candidate with a very bright political future. I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again.”
LA PORTE COUNTY VOTES
The number of people who voted in the last several La Porte County elections, and percentage of registered voters to cast ballots.