Jack Colwell: Pigs were flying on election night
Thursday, November 17, 2016 9:47 AM
SOUTH BEND – When pigs flew over my car as I drove home on election night, the sight neither startled nor surprised me. Hey! The Cubs won the World Series. Donald Trump won the presidency. So why would aerodynamically skilled porkers be a surprise?
Actually, the Cubs were expected to win this time. Trump wasn’t.
Not long ago, as Hillary Clinton won the debates and Trump was losing it in a tweeting rage, speculation grew about a political tsunami sweeping away the Republican presidential nominee and helpless Republican candidates all around the nation, bringing a Democratic Senate for sure and maybe – just maybe – even a Democratic House. Could Clinton, surprisingly close back then in an Indiana poll, even carry the Hoosier state the way President Obama did in 2008?
Tsunami there was. In Indiana, the waves swept away helpless candidates, just as predicted when a tsunami hits. But some of those mid-October election forecasts were like a South Bend weather forecast in winter that goes wrong as shifting winds off the lake bring something far different than predicted.
Tsunami waves hit a different place, a different party. The helpless candidates, drowned without a chance, were Democrats: Evan Bayh, the long-popular Indiana vote-getter who came back to run again for senator in a plan to win control of the Senate; John Gregg, who seemed in October to be moving toward a clear victory for governor over a little-known, last-minute appointee on the Republican ticket; Glenda Ritz, who had survived a past Republican tide to be state school superintendent and become a champion of public education.
Clinton didn’t end up surprisingly close to carrying Indiana, or anywhere close. A Trump tsunami in Indiana was so big that it washed away any Democratic hopes of wins in statewide races or for congressional district upsets. Trump didn’t win big everywhere, just barely in most battleground states, but by enough to win electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
What happened? Republican voters came home. No doubt. A lot of that should have been expected. Voters, even if they dislike their nominee, seek reasons still to return to the party they usually favor. The Oct. 28 bombshell by FBI Director James Comey, that more emails of possible interest had been discovered, helped to accentuate that return home. The thinking: “Well, maybe she really is a crook. I just can’t vote for her. Gotta vote for Trump.”
Emails, a subject always hurting Clinton, were back in the news with Comey’s “never mind” just before the voting. That in itself didn’t doom Clinton. Trump turned more positive, abandoning tweeting rants and staying on message, more reason for more undecided voters to vote for him.
Then there was that vaunted ground game of the Democrats. They thought all their work to identify potential supporters and get them to the polls, all the calls and knocking on doors, would assure victory in any close contest. Trump didn’t bother with a ground game.Trump was convinced that his supporters were enthused enough to get to the polls without need for all that traditional political organizing. They were.
Democratic strategists were convinced their work would bring waves of voters they needed to the polls, big turnouts of African Americans, Latinos, women in general and suburban women in particular. Didn’t happen in percentages needed. Enthusiasm just wasn’t widespread for Clinton. You can identify potential supporters, but you can’t make them vote if they aren’t energized by the candidate, if they don’t want to bother. As Republicans came home, Clinton couldn’t convince enough of the wavering Democrats to do the same.
St. Joseph County, supposedly strongly Democratic, darn near was carried by Trump – Clinton, 52,247; Trump, 52,019. The tsunami left Bayh, Gregg, Ritz and Democratic congressional nominee Lynn Coleman with small margins, nowhere near what was needed to win. Earlier forecasts before the winds shifted now look as ridiculous as flying pigs.
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.