KEVIN LEININGER: Another good night for Allen County Republicans, but is that always good for the political process?

Congressman Jim Banks talks to reporters after his re-election Tuesday. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Rich Beck, center, new Allen County Commissioner, talks with supporters at Republican headquarters Tuesday. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Republican Allen County Sheriff Dave Gladieux, Center, won a second term Tuesday. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

Courtney Tritch was by far the most appealing Democratic candidate for Indiana’s 3rd District since 2010, but it was barely past 7 on election night when Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine stepped to the podium at GOP headquarters and drew cheers by announcing that a local TV station had just called the race for incumbent Republican Jim Banks.

Whether Tritch’s defeat discourages other serious Democrats from trying to represent what has been called the most conservative district in the state — as former City Councilman Dr. Tom Hayhurst’s 30-point drubbing by Marlin Stutzman did eight years ago — remains to be seen. But the possibility drew two very different but equally legitimate responses from Banks and Shine Tuesday night.

Banks was gracious, congratulating Tritch on a “heartfelt and spirited campaign . . . We disagree on a lot of issues but I appreciated her passion.” And he was right to do so: Tritch was an articulate, hard-working and well-funded advocate of her party’s priorities, including health care for all — and lost early.

I have a lot of respect for quality people willing to devote so much time, thought and energy to a campaign, especially when they know victory is a long shot. Unfortunately, we have also seen candidates who put no thought or effort into their campaigns and care less about victory or defeat than they do attention and notoriety. The 3rd District will not be well served should Tritch’s party draw that lesson from her gallant defeat.

Shine, however, was not ready to concede his party’s long stranglehold on the district’s congressional seat is in any way bad for the political process — and he had a point.

“I think it was good for he process. (Tritch) was a credible candidate who was 180 degrees different (than Banks). That gave voters a choice, and that’s good.”

The voters made other choices Tuesday as well, and preliminary numbers indicated that in most cases Allen County voters justified GOP Senate candidate Mike Braun’s description of them at Monday’s Memorial Coliseum Trump rally as the “heart and soul of conservatism in Indiana.”

ABC projected Braun the victor over incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly before 9 p.m. — a key win in the GOP’s effort to maintain control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans were also leading in most state races, although incumbent Martin Carbaugh was in a tight contest against Democratic challenger Kyle Miller. Allen County races appeared to be a near-sweep for Republicans, however, with David Gladieux re-elected sheriff, Rich Beck succeeding Linda Bloom as Commissioner and Tom Harris keeping his seat on County Council. A notable exception was Sharon Tucker, the only Democrat on County Council, who was leading Kim Doster.

In many races — including prosecutor, auditor, recorder, assessor and some commissioner and council districts, no Democrat was on the ballot. And that is bad for the process, because it gives voters no choice at all.

Republicans also appear to have prevailed in two closely watched township races, with incumbent Sarah Gnagy ahead in the contest for St. Joseph Township trustee and Eric Tippmann the apparent trustee victor in Perry Township despite moving out of the township. That led Democrat Melissa Rinehart to challenge Tippmann’s candidacy, but the Election Board ruled his intention to return to the township made him a viable candidate. Voters apparently agreed.

Tippmann is currently a County Council member. His vacancy — and that created by Justin Busch’s recent selection to succeed David Long in the state Senate — will be filled later this month by a party officials.

As for the issues themselves, Harris and Beck both said they will begin to set priorities for county government for the coming year — what to do about jail overcrowding, opioid abuse, economic development, etc. — and will have the luxury of drawing on millions of dollars of reserves.

And as he does every election, Shine told the smaller-than-usual gathering how it’s a “great time to be a Republican in Allen County.” Most of the local returns seem to justify the sentiment.

Across the country, many observers have predicted the Republican Party would lose its narrow control of the House. With a Republican in the White House and the GOP expected to maintain control of the Senate, two years of gridlock could be coming to Washington, D.C., if not Allen County or Indiana.

Banks said that won’t necessarily happen “If the Democrats are serious about bipartisanship. But I haven’t seen it.”

But then, we don’t see it all that much in Allen County, either. And the voters seem to prefer it that way.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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