Nov 21, 2023 - News
Market Street

What Hogsett's landslide wins say about Indianapolis

Photo illustration of the Indianapolis city hall with lines radiation from it.

Photo Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios; Photo: Rick Maiman/Getty Images

Mayor Joe Hogsett's third consecutive landslide election is proof that Indianapolis is a Democratic stronghold.

The intrigue: Or, is it?

  • Hogsett allies are pushing back on that narrative, arguing that the mayor has been the key to the party's success and a generic Democrat would not have performed as well.

State of play: Hogsett won re-election with about 59% of the vote despite running against an opponent, Republican Jefferson Shreve, who spent at least $13.5 million of his own money — essentially limitless resources in an Indianapolis mayoral election.

Zoom in: Hogsett wasn't defenseless. He raised about $2.6 million this year and more than $6 million for the cycle, keeping him on the airwaves.

  • If Hogsett hadn't run, any other Democrat would have struggled to fundraise at that level.

Between the lines: Therein lies the case for Hogsett as a singular force.

  • Democrats close to Hogsett say his moderate brand and fundraising aptitude made him uniquely well-suited to fend off a formidable challenger — and that Republicans could win again after he (presumably) steps aside in four years.
  • Hogsett also showed he's a shrewd political operator, for example, by emphasizing Shreve's past pro-gun positions that are unpopular in the city and baiting him into proposing gun control measures that offended many Republicans.

Flashback: Hogsett's predecessor, Greg Ballard, was a two-term Republican mayor who presided over a Republican-controlled City-County Council during his first term from 2008-2012.

What they're saying: "I think a lot of people lose track of, not that long ago, Indianapolis had a majority Republican council and a Republican mayor," Mike Schmuhl, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, told reporters after Election Day.

  • "You can't tell me, in 15 years, the demographics changed that dramatically and now we're 60-40."

Yes, but: Republicans and some Democrats I've talked to say there are key differences between 2007, when Ballard won his first term, and now.

  • Ballard rode a wave of anger over rising property taxes, which helped catapult him over Democratic incumbent Bart Peterson.
  • Plus: Former President Trump's emergence as leader of the Republican Party has made it harder for moderate, urban-minded Republicans to win over Indianapolis voters who lean Democratic.

By the numbers: Evidence beyond the municipal elections points to an increasing Democratic advantage in Indianapolis.

  • When the late Terry Curry won his first election for Marion County prosecutor in 2010, he captured about 52% of the vote.
  • By 2018, Curry's share of the vote increased to 67% — and his successor, Ryan Mears, maintained 59% last year while running for prosecutor against a well-funded Republican opponent.
  • President Biden won 64% of the vote in Marion County in 2020.

The bottom line: Democrats are routinely winning around 60% of the vote, or better, in Marion County.

  • Some Democrats warn that streak could be tested if a more progressive-minded candidate runs for mayor in 2027, but Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects after Shreve's lopsided loss.

Market Street is a regular column about local politics and power. Send me tips: [email protected].


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