A couple of political truisms–which I have always accepted as “givens”–went up in smoke last night. The first was that at-large candidates win or lose based upon the performance of their party’s mayoral candidate. The second was that in close races, victory is largely a matter of getting your vote out.
In Indianapolis yesterday, the Democrats got their votes out. They took back the Council, including the at-large seats. But enough of those Democrats scratched Melina Kennedy to allow Ballard a second term.
There will undoubtedly be lots of second-guessing and post-election analysis. Here’s my two-cents-worth: the sorts of things about the Ballard Administration that appall so many of us who watch government closely are not the sorts of things that are apparent to the average voter (and the media largely ignored those issues during his term). No one was enthusiastic about him–he never got out of the low 40s in internal polls–but the average voter was aware of no strong reason to oppose him. Meanwhile, Melina Kennedy never gave people a strong reason to vote for her–her ads did not adequately introduce her to the voters before they began attacking Ballard, and the attack ads were, as Paul Ogden has noted, insufficiently specific; they failed to explain what was wrong with the cozy deals they alluded to–they simply attacked.
Given two candidates seen as interchangeable, voters opted for the one with whom they were familiar.
The good news is that a Democratic Council should be able to block the sorts of cozy deals and poor policy choices that have characterized Ballard’s tenure. The danger is that the Council will simply act out of partisanship, rather than principle. In either case, the next four years are likely to be contentious.
A mediocre (at best) mayor and a hostile council aren’t exactly a recipe for progress.