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GOP in near sweep of Porter County races

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Only two years after Porter County went blue—when, on Barack Obama’s shirttails, no Democratic incumbent for a countywide office lost and every Democratic candidate for an open countywide office won—the tide has turned red.

Of the seven countywide offices on the ballot this year, Republicans took six. Only Sheriff Dave Lain, a Democratic incumbent, managed to buck the trend, although he did so handily, beating Republican Ralph Levi with 24,926 votes or 56.22 percent to Levi’s 19,410 or 43.78 percent.

In every other countywide race, however, the Republican candidate won: for Auditor, Assessor, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Coroner, and Recorder, and for the hotly contested Center District seat on the Porter County Commissioners.


In the race for Porter County Auditor—an open seat—Republican Robert Wichlinski beat Democrat and Chesterton Tribune reporter Vicki Urbanik, taking 22,928 votes or 52.96 percent to Urbanik’s 20,367 votes or 47.04 percent.


In the race for Porter County Assessor—an open seat—Republican Jon Snyder defeated Democrat Maureen “Moe” Wendrickx, with 24,529 votes or 56.75 percent to Wendrickx’s 18,697 or 43.25 percent.

Clerk of Circuit Court

In the race for Clerk of Circuit Court, Republican Karen Martin beat Democrat incumbent Pamela Mishler Fish, garnering 23,268 votes or 54.32 percent to Fish’s 19,568 or 45.68 percent.


In the race for Coroner, Republican Chuck Harris defeated Democrat incumbent Robert Schulte, taking 23,042 votes or 53.72 percent to Schulte’s 19,849 or 46.28 percent.


And in the race for Recorder—an open seat—Republican Jon Miller beat Democrat Debby Dean Malik, with 24,355 votes or 56.92 percent to Malik’s 18,432 or 43.08 percent.

Center Seat,

County Commissioners

In the other countywide race, for the Center Seat on the Porter County Commissioners, Republican Nancy Adams defeated Democrat incumbent Bob Harper, garnering 24,022 votes or 54.34 percent to Harper’s 20,182 or 45.66 percent.



Some commonalties can be found among the Republican victories. With Sheriff Lain’s single exception—an isolated pocket of ticket-splitting—Democratic incumbents lost, and with a voter turnout of not even 43 percent, it would appear that many historically solid Democratic voters simply stayed home. Indeed, more folks cast straight-ticket Republican ballots on Tuesday than straight-ticket Democratic ones.

In the views of both Wichlinski, winner in the race for Auditor, and Snyder, winner in that for Assessor, the GOP got some trickle-down bump in Porter County from the national Republican tsunami, although how big a bump is unclear. “The voters have an innate sense of balance,” Wichlinski told the Chesterton Tribune today. “I don’t know where it emanates from. Obviously there was some trickle-down from the national level. We don’t live in a vacuum. But the degree to which it affected any specific local race, I don’t know.”

Snyder agreed to a point. “We didn’t know how much of a trickle-down we’d get going in,” he said. “Porter County tends to be more of an independent county. So I was pretty shocked by the results. Humble and grateful, but shocked.”

Miller, who won the race for Recorder by a wide margin, acknowledged that “a lot of us did benefit from the Republican tsunami, as it’s being called. We did very well. We did better than expected.”

For Republican Jim Biggs—who in his own race for the 1st District seat on the County Council defeated Democratic incumbent Bob Poparad—the Republican near-sweep was a combination of hard work on the part of the GOP candidates here and a national trend not to be resisted. “The Porter County Republican Party knew up front that they were running against some very quality candidates, very worthy of being elected officials,” he said late Tuesday. “What you’re seeing is a tsunami of sort of Republican support. And then on top of it, the Republican candidates I’m familiar with worked hard. They didn’t take anything for granted. Those two ingredients pretty much predicted what was going to happen tonight.”

Yet Porter County voters had a few bones to pick which had nothing to do with national politics, Snyder observed. “I knocked on a lot of doors,” he said. “And I kept hearing about late tax bills. That’s what I heard consistently. They were on time this year but I think people understand that that was with the help of the state.”

In Portage Township itself, Snyder also said, property owners even in the reliably Democratic precincts were flummoxed by the fact that their home values “stayed the same or went up. People are scratching their heads and wondering why that would be, in this economy.” That consternation absolutely helped his candidacy, Snyder said.

Miller too suggested that, at least in his own race, some of the voters were paying attention to his qualifications. “The trend of e-government is making things easier for people,” he said. “I think I bring that to the table and that this was a very positive factor for me. And my campaign ran clean.”

There is this commonality as well among the Republican victors in the countywide races, Wichlinski noted. Four of the them come from small-business backgrounds: Wichlinski himself; Snyder; Jon Miller, winner of the race for Recorder; and Nancy Adams, winner of the race for the Center District seat on the County Commissioners. “The opposition aren’t bad people, they’re not ill-intentioned at all,” Wichlinski said, paraphrasing U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, when he visited Valparaiso recently. “The difference is that they don’t have private business experience.”

“You’ve got to be patient,” Wichlinski added. “You’ve got to perseverent. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Wichlinski did say this about Tuesday’s Republican near-sweep. “The Democrats still control the purse strings of the county, no matter what happened last night. There is still Democratic control of the County Council.”

Biggs addressed himself precisely to that fact in a call for bipartisan comity. “I was asked by a friend, ‘What’s the first thing you want to do?’ Seriously, the first thing I want to do is create unity on the County Council and some common ground with the County Commissioners. Without that, nothing else matters. It may as well be Monday and not Tuesday, because nothing would change. We have to find common ground and open lines of communication and compromise and start to create opportunities and set goals, because if we don’t, four years from now, and deservedly so, we’ll be out on our butts.”

Miller concurred. “Now it’s our responsibility to live up to expectations and fulfill our contract,” he said. “I think we will.”

Sheriff Lain, for his part, attributed his blue victory in a sea of red to a bottom-line issue: “Once I get my mind made up, once I get a belief, it’s pretty hard to change that,” he said. “And my belief is that it’s not about me but what the people of Porter County think they’re getting from the Sheriff’s Department. I’ve always talked about buy-in, that people feel we’re providing a good public-safety product. It’s not to my credit but to my officers’ credit that folks feel safe. And public safety is a quality-of-life issue.”


Posted 11/3/2010




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