Four years ago, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were duking it out for the Democratic presidential nomination and Indiana turned out to be one of their battlegrounds.
Voter interest was high — Obama even stopped to shoot hoops and pump flesh at Riverview Elementary School in Elkhart — and Elkhart County turnout that year jumped to 42 percent. In the presidential vote four years earlier in 2004, turnout reached only 22 percent.
Don’t expect a repeat of 2008 come Tuesday. Though it’s a presidential election year, Mitt Romney has the Republican nomination all but wrapped up and electoral interest, locally, seems at an ebb.
“It just seems really quiet to me now,” said Shari Mellin, chairwoman of the Elkhart County Democratic Party.
Indeed, in calling around searching for workers to help run polls on election day next Tuesday, many expressed surprise to Mellin that a vote loomed. “That doesn’t bode well for a busy election day,” she said.
Nevertheless, there are contests to be won and lost in the primary — mostly on the Republican ballot — and the candidates, undoubtedly, are running on adrenalin. Here are the races of note:
Ÿ U.S. Senate: Longtime U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar faces off against Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the GOP primary for the Senate post. It’s one of the toughest electoral fights Lugar has faced and the winner will go against Democrat Joe Donnelly in November.
Ÿ Elkhart County Board of Commissioners: Incumbent Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder faces challenger Darryl Riegsecker, a member of the Elkhart County Council, in the Republican primary for Yoder’s District 2 post. No Democrats are running.
Ÿ Elkhart County Council: Five Republicans are jockeying for three at-large spots on the Elkhart County Council — incumbents John Letherman and David Ashe along with Jason Obendorf, Thomas Stump and Randy Wilson. The top three vote-getters continue on to the November general election, along with one Democrat, Ralph Spelbring.
Ÿ District 48 Indiana House seat: Incumbent Tim Neese faces a challenge from two others in the GOP primary, Jerry Brewton and Randy Weinley. No Democrats are running.
Ÿ District 2 U.S. House seat: On the Republican side, Jackie Walorski faces Greg Andrews. On the Democratic side Brendan Mullen faces Dan Morrison, which makes it the only contested race on the Democratic ballot in Elkhart County.
Walorski and Mullen have the money, organization and party support, giving them the inside track to victory come Tuesday. Donnelly currently holds the seat, but is running for the U.S. Senate this cycle.
Ÿ Southern Elkhart County: The GOP primaries for two other Indiana House seats that seep into southern Elkhart County, District 22 and District 82, are also contested, while the Democratic primaries are not.
The District 22 GOP race features incumbent Rebecca Kubacki and Jon Hare. The District 82 contest pits four hopefuls against each other, Mike Caywood, Denise Lemmon, David Ober and Wesley Ortell. Incumbent District 82 Rep. Jeff Espich, a Republican, isn’t seeking re-election.
ENERGY AND MONEY
Dale Stickel, chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Central Committee, suspects negative campaigning may be turning some people off ahead of Tuesday’s vote. The Lugar-Mourdock campaign has been particularly intense, though he didn’t pinpoint any race.
Interest may even be low come Nov. 6, the day of the general election, he thinks.
“Quite honestly, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of races on our ballot to look at,” he said.
The District 2 U.S. House contest will probably draw most attention locally, but he doesn’t expect Donnelly to put up much of a challenge to whoever wins the Lugar-Mourdock primary. Donnelly’s vote for Obama’s health care overhaul will hobble him, Stickel maintains.
Mellin, though, expects interest to rise by Nov. 6. “In the fall, I’m sure we’ll be very, very active,” she said.
There will be the presidential race, of course, between Obama and, presumably, Romney. She also foresees more of a contest than Stickel does between Donnelly and the Mourdock-Lugar winner.
The District 2 U.S. House race, too, will generate interest. “I think there will be a lot of energy and, unfortunately, a lot of money spent, and a lot from outside our district,” she said.