Voters trickle to polls for Indiana primary

(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)
(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana residents trickled to voting sites Tuesday for a primary election that lacked any galvanizing issues or marquee statewide races although some people said efforts to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in Indiana’s constitution affected their vote.

With no statewide races on the ballot and few congressional contests expected to be close, the 2014 primary season has been far quieter than 2012, when tea-party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary. Mourdock lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly in the November general election.

Turnout was light in morning voting, though workers in some precincts said that was typical for a midterm election. At one location at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, only 10 people had voted by 9 a.m.

This year’s election is largely focused on races for the state Legislature — all 100 House seats are open, along with about half of the state Senate seats.

One issue that drew attention this year is gay marriage, which is illegal in Indiana. An effort to enshrine that in the state constitution through a ballot initiative failed in this year’s Legislature, prompting some conservatives to blame members of the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Angela Webb, 47, a registered nurse at St. Francis Hospital who described herself as “ultraconservative,” said gay marriage was a concern for her this election year.

“Our pastor just had a very good sermon on that — man and woman,” she said, referring to Indiana’s law that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

But Tony Hahn, another Republican, said he would vote against a gay-marriage ban if it ever came to a referendum.

“I would vote against a constitutional amendment that could infringe on anyone’s right to marry,” the 37-year-old attorney said after voting in Indianapolis.

Most voters said they cast ballots more out of a sense of duty than any particular issue. Those who did reluctantly cite a top issue said it was the economy.

Chaka Coleman, 29, a homemaker who voted at Allisonville Elementary School on the city’s north side with her 3-month-old baby girl, said the most important issue facing the state was jobs.

“There’s a lot of places that have very high unemployment and a lot of people that just simply quit trying to find work,” she said. She also expressed skepticism at rosy economic statistics.

Indiana’s unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in March, well below the national rate and some of its neighboring Midwestern states.

The battles in this year’s election campaign have been played out mostly in mailers and local newspapers.

In the state Senate, John Waterman, R-Shelburn, was facing a well-organized and well-funded opponent in Washington City Councilman Eric Bassler. Indiana business interests and some of the political staffers associated with former Gov. Mitch Daniels were helping Bassler. Waterman, a financial adviser, considered a run against Daniels in the 2008 primary but ultimately stayed out of the race.

Two Republican state House members, Rick Niemeyer of Lowell and Mark Messmer of Jasper, were vying for Senate seats that became open due to retirements. Niemeyer was vying for the northwest Indiana seat being vacated by Sen. Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake. Messmer was seeking the southwest Indiana seat held by Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton.

Senate Republicans see Hume’s seat as one of their best chances to improve their existing 24-seat edge over Democrats.

In the House, a handful of incumbents faced surprisingly tough challenges.

In northeast Indiana, tea party supporters have coordinated their opposition to Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse. Kubacki, a two-term incumbent, who has been criticized for a vote that helped keep a proposed gay marriage ban off the November ballot. She has won the backing of the state’s business groups and the House Republican Campaign Committee, which protects incumbents.

In the same area of the state, Republican Reps. Kathy Heuer of Columbia City and Casey Cox of Fort Wayne faced challenges from social conservatives angry about the same vote.

House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, picked up a surprisingly strong challenge from Michael Scott, a union electrician who has gained the backing of the state’s unions. Conservative education overhaul supporters have flocked to Behning’s defense; the Indianapolis Republican was instrumental in the passage of sweeping changes in 2011 and has continued pushing for expansions of the school voucher program.

The winners of Tuesday’s contests will head to November showdowns. Next up for the Republican and Democratic parties are nominating conventions this summer, where party activists will decide who runs for auditor, secretary of state and treasurer.

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