Only One Incumbent Lost In Indiana Primary Amid COVID-Altered Election

Jun 15, 2020

Indianapolis voters – many wearing masks – wait in line to vote at a polling place on Election Day.
Credit Lauren Chapman / IPB News

Indiana recently closed the book on maybe the most unusual election in its history – a primary, delayed by a month, that featured expanded vote-by-mail.

And in the midst of a pandemic, when voter contact was harder than ever, only one Statehouse incumbent lost. And she was only technically an incumbent: Rep. Dollyne Sherman (R-Indianapols) was caucused into her seat by a small group of Republican precinct committeepeople just last year.

Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics Director Andrew Downs says that’s not an accident. Incumbency, he says, was likely an even bigger advantage this cycle, even as people had more time – via vote-by-mail – to research the candidates.

“People are skeptical enough of what they read online that if your website, as a challenger, sounds good they don’t automatically accept everything that’s written there," Downs says. "And so they know what they get with the incumbent.”

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana 2020 Two-Way. Text "elections" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

Downs says grassroots campaigning was also significantly harder this year. That’s a challenge that could remain into the fall. Downs says that will put a premium on a savvy social media presence.

“So, if you’re able to get those out and get them viewed by more and more people, you can actually replace to some degree a portion of that old knocking on doors,” Downs says.

Indiana Republican election officials are resistant to allowing expanded vote-by-mail for the November election.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.