Herald Times: GOP unlikely to put up much opposition in Bloomington's 2019 elections

Local party leaders, candidates and election officials are gearing up for this year’s city and town elections.

But even before candidates file their candidacy for various city positions, Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis recognizes taking on local Democrats in a Bloomington city election would be a daunting fight — and perhaps one not worth the time and effort.

Ellis said local Republicans are not supporting the party in a way that can lead to an effective challenge of Bloomington’s Democratic stronghold. He encouraged Republicans planning to run for city offices to think twice before considering the bid.

“The party is not going to be in much of a position to help them in the city of Bloomington this year,” Ellis said.

He said a Republican candidate without name recognition, money and a robust volunteer base will not be competitive in Bloomington. And while he wants to see Republican leadership at the city level someday, he said the party has struggled to draw enough local support in the form of volunteers and funding — both essential tools to winning a campaign — to be competitive in a city election. Ellis said without those elements it is difficult to get the GOP’s message across to voters, no matter how well qualified the candidates.

Ellis added that running elections are expensive so he would rather not bill taxpayers to have a “dog-and-pony show” general election when the outcome is clear.

“I am not a chairman that just wants to fill the ballot,” Ellis said. “I want to do what is best for Monroe County.”

Ellis said Bloomington voters have made it clear that the Republican brand is not for them and he respects their decision.

Instead, Ellis said, the Monroe County Republican Party plans to maintain its dominance on the Ellettsville Town Council, which are also up for election this year. He expects Democrats to try to challenge the party in Ellettsville but Republican support is strong. Seats on the Stinesville Town Council will also be on the ballot. 

Monroe County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Fraley said even though the city strongly leans in favor of Democrats, he does not take anything for granted.

Fraley also said Democrats view Ellettsville and Stinesville as important communities in Monroe County and welcome the challenge of engaging candidates from opposing parties in a general election.

Looking to the primaries, Fraley said the mayoral race will likely be the hot topic.

“During city elections, the mayor is at the top of the ticket, thus, these elections tend to draw people with a sincere interest in local issues,” Fraley said. “There have been a number of high-profile issues pertaining to city government in recent years that may drive more voters to the polls.”

Mayor John Hamilton has already announced that he will seek re-election this year. Also, while no formal announcement has been made, Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge has expressed interest in running for the city executive position and has launched an exploratory committee examining a possible mayoral run. Barge is expected to decide this month whether to run in the primary.

Fraley also expects that incumbent Democrats will face some challenges. Along with the mayoral seat, all city council seats are up for grabs this year. In addition, voters will vote for city clerk in Bloomington. In Ellettsville and Stinesville, town council seats will be on the ballots, as will clerk treasurer positions.

“The most important thing a candidate can do is listen ... to residents’ concerns,” Fraley said.

“Voters respond positively when a candidate recognizes their humanity and values their perspective.”