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Upsets roil GOP amid low turnout

– low voter turnout and highly partisan participation.

But those old primary election standards resulted in upsets of incumbents and near misses for others in Tuesday’s Republican primaries around the area.

In Noble County, longtime Prosecutor Steve Clouse was upended by a former employee, Eric Blackman, by 435 votes. There were only 4,573 cast in that particular race, out of 29,877 registered voters in Noble County.

Blackman drew the endorsement of conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and alleged that Clouse’s approach to crime would lead to future tax increases.

On his campaign Facebook page urging his election to the spot as the county’s top law enforcement officer, Blackman expressed excitement at drawing the endorsement of a pro-gun political action committee.

Blackman said on the page that “law enforcement is most often reactive to violent crimes and we cannot always rely on the Government to protect us.”

The largely administrative positions of prosecutor, recorder, assessor and clerk of the courts are drawing candidates who are more conservative than they used to, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics and associate professor of political science at IPFW.

“The Republican Party is experiencing a bit of in-fighting, and it is more visible than it may have been in the past,” Downs said. “You have the conservative part of the party trying to assert itself.

“I think it’s safe to say that there are some people that truly believe that prosecutors are not using their discretion appropriately.”

Sounding weary, Clouse said Wednesday he had not had enough time since the election to gain a perspective on what pushed Blackman out in front.

He suspected, though, that factions that have arisen in the Republican Party over the past few years probably led to his defeat.

“This is not a political office in terms of gun control and pro-life,” Clouse said. “Those issues really are left to the legislatures, and (prosecutors) support the Constitution.”

Clouse bristled at the insinuation throughout the campaign that he was against the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.

“I swore to uphold the Constitution,” he said.

If his loss was truly political, it is disappointing, he said.

Clouse said what matters are the facts, the figures and the record of success, and it shouldn’t matter what office is being discussed.

“We ran a clean campaign based solely on my record and the success of my office. That was rejected, and they went with someone else,” Clouse said.

Two incumbent state legislators in the area will not be returning to Indianapolis in 2015 – Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, and Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City. Both lost to candidates with tea party ties – Curt Nisly and Christopher Judy, respectively.

In House District 84, Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, held off attorney Michael Barranda by just 250 votes – 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent.

Low voter turnout might have helped former Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Liz Brown defeat Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries for the open state Senate District 15 seat, Downs said.

Brown has a loyal and enthusiastic following, which helped her in the primary. Democrat Jack Morris could win in the general election, Downs said, but the seat is Brown’s to lose.

Steve Shine, Allen County Republican chairman, would not credit anything to voter turnout, but he was disappointed in the lax participation.

“A turnout of 12 percent is not satisfactory,” he said. “Something needs to be done to energize and/or provide for an easier mechanism for people to vote.”

And the matter is not just a primary problem, but a general election problem as well, Shine said.

He cited the 2011 Fort Wayne mayoral race that saw low voter turnout in re-electing Mayor Tom Henry.

“Something needs to be done to jump-start the electorate’s desire to vote,” Henry said.

rgreen@jg.net

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