herrell smith election precincts

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Was it the war in Iraq, the mayor, or Gov. Mitch Daniels’ defense of $9-an-hour jobs?

Whatever it was, local Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters were fired up and ready to go to the polls Tuesday.

As a result, the Indiana House majority changed for the second time in two years, Ron Herrell found himself once again a state representative, and John Smith lost his job.

Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Kennedy is still scratching his head over his party’s big night. After the trouncing the Democrats took in the last countywide election, it wasn’t easy to believe the pollsters who predicted Democrat advances this time around.

And Kennedy wouldn’t have believed anyone who told him Herrell would win by a 56-44 percent margin, after losing to Smith by more than 1,100 votes in 2004.

But Herrell more than doubled that margin in this election, winning or tying in 38 of 46 precincts in the race. Indiana’s 30th District, which largely exists within Kokomo city limits, voted for Herrell like never before.

All areas of the city flipped for Herrell this election, according to a precinct-by-precinct analysis of the results.

The preference for Herrell was especially evident in the swing Taylor Township precincts.

In 2000, Taylor Township’s precincts voted largely for Herrell, who took 55 percent of the vote in the area against challenger Karen Buyer Burkhardt. He bested Burkhardt by 200 votes in that area alone.

In 2004, the number of votes cast in Taylor precincts swelled by 1,445. Smith took 57 percent of the Taylor vote — a full 537 more votes than Herrell. He even beat Herrell in Indian Heights, an area that traditionally backs Democrats.

This year, the pendulum swung back with a vengeance for Smith, who lost five of the six Taylor precincts. Herrell garnered 272 more votes than Smith in the Taylor precincts.

But Herrell saw gains across the city.

In all, 23 precincts which Smith won in 2004 flipped over to Herrell’s side this year. Not a single precinct changed from Herrell to Smith.

Even in the heavily Republican 64th precinct — the middle-class neighborhoods between Dixon and Malfalfa Roads south of Sycamore Street — Smith eked out a victory this year, when in 2004 he won overwhelmingly.

In 2004 presidential election year, when the voter turnout was 62.8 percent countywide, Smith beat Herrell 711-438 in the 64th.

This year, with a 45 percent turnout, Smith beat Herrell 518-421 in the 64th. In that precinct, and in others, Democrat votes were up, and Republican turnout was down.

“If I had to guess, it’d be two words: Mitch Daniels,” said Indiana Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner. “The governor coming up there and shooting his mouth off about $9-an-hour jobs didn’t help [Smith] at all.”

Howard County Republican Party Chairman Brad Bagwell said Wednesday he’d had only a limited amount of time after Tuesday’s election to analyze the numbers, but had noticed that Republican votes were down in the city.

He said he was especially surprised at the vote in the Center Township Trustee race, where the lone Republican candidate, Wanda McKillip, finished a distant fourth to three Democrat challengers. Bagwell said the vote was more indicative of voter dissatisfaction with the name McKillip than anything else.

“My personal opinion is that Mayor [Matt] McKillip had a negative effect on the Smith race,” Bagwell said.

Daniels’ decision to spend political capital on daylight-saving time was perhaps another blow to local Republican hopes, he said, because people either seemed indifferent to DST or to hate it completely. Bagwell said he didn’t think Daniels’ Major Moves road plan had an effect on the election.

For Kennedy, the size of the victory came down to Herrell’s hard work during the campaign, and a newly invigorated union vote. For months, Daniels’ jobs comments and the rumor that a GOP-led state Legislature would pass a “right to work” law dominated union discussions.

“I think we probably saw some UAW members who may have voted Republican in the past come back to the Democratic side,” Kennedy said.

Scott Smith may be reached at (765) 454-8569 or via e-mail at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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