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Primarily a GOP party

Plenty of intrigue will precede May 6 vote

Before the Indiana Republican Party arrives for its state convention in June, northeast Indiana Republicans have a few issues to settle themselves – nominating candidates for everything from the Third District congressional seat to hotly contested township advisory board races.

Incumbents didn’t earn a pass, in many cases. Some high-profile challenges promise to make for an interesting campaign season in GOP quarters, particularly in Allen County. Not so for the Democratic primary, however. The party’s northeast Indiana ballots have as many holes as the region’s winter-worn roads.

Here’s how the May 6 contests have come together:

Democratic shortfall: Voters who choose a Democratic ballot will find they have few choices to make this spring. Only incumbent Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman drew enough challengers to create a contest. Justin Kuhnle, Jim Redmond and Tommy A. Schrader are seeking the Democratic nomination for Stutzman’s seat.

Kuhnle, a Kendallville resident, finished fourth in the 2012 Democratic primary. Schrader is best known for a dust-up in the 2011 municipal election, when he won nomination for an at-large seat on the Fort Wayne City Council but was disqualified because he had registered and voted earlier that year in Green Bay, Wis. Redmond, of rural Auburn, was twice an unsuccessful candidate for DeKalb County Council.

Attorney Jack Morris is the only candidate for the Indiana Senate District 15 seat he first sought in 2010. Republican Tom Wyss isn’t seeking re-election this year. Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, the region’s only Democratic lawmaker, is seeking re-election to his District 80 seat. Charles Odier is making another bid for the District 52 seat held by Republican Ben Smaltz. Mike Wilber is seeking the District 82 seat held by Republican David Ober, and Fred Haigh is a candidate for Republican Bob Morris’ District 84 seat.

Democratic ballots for Senate District 14, held by Dennis Kruse; and House districts served by Republicans Matt Lehman, Martin Carbaugh, Dennis Zent and Casey Cox drew no contenders.

Aside from the Third District race, the only contested race on the Democratic primary ballot is for the Wayne Township Board, where there are four candidates for three seats.

The Democrats also failed to find a sheriff’s candidate to challenge perennial candidate David Roach – an embarrassing misstep that leaves the party with an unacceptable option on its fall ballot.

Republican bounty: In a region with one-party dominance, the GOP primary might as well be the general election. Voters who choose Republican ballots will have lots of choices, even for posts where an incumbent is seeking re-election.

Fort Wayne attorney Casey Cox, who won Phyllis Pond’s House District 84 seat in a party caucus after her death, didn’t win a pass in his first primary. He faces Ken Knoblauch and Denny Worman. District 84’s Morris, still trying to live down an attack on the Girl Scouts, faces a challenge from attorney Michael Barranda.

Allen County Assessor Stacey O’Day has a challenger in Kimberly Klerner, while Prosecutor Karen Richards faces a primary rematch against Mike Loomis that’s almost certain to be interesting.

Allen County Commissioner Linda K. Bloom is seeking her sixth term in the Third District seat, with a challenge from longtime County Councilman Roy Buskirk. Incumbent County Councilman Kevin Howell must defend his seat in a challenge from Joe (Fluoride Man) Renner, who wants to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking supply.

There are five GOP candidates for the District 3 council seat now held by Darren Vogt, who is seeking an Indiana Senate seat. Travis Armstrong, Joel Benz, Tom Rotering, Gwendolyn Sordelet and Gary Washington all are candidates.

The GOP sheriff’s race has two candidates, David Gladieux and Luke NaThalang. Sheriff Ken Fries, limited to two terms, is now seeking the same Senate seat as Vogt.

HJR 3 fallout: Republican state representatives Kathy Heuer and Rebecca Kubacki each have a primary challenger with tea party ties. Kubacki’s challenger is Curt Nisly, husband of the Elkhart County Republican Party chairwoman. Heuer’s challenger is Christopher Judy.

The challengers could find support from groups angry over the incumbents’ votes, first to amend the same-sex marriage resolution and then to oppose it altogether. Critics of HJR 3, including well-funded business interests, apparently stepped up before the vote to promise they would back any Republicans who voted against the resolution. While Kubacki is taking additional heat for her principled stand to demand common-sense regulation of church-based child care programs, she and Heuer are likely to have enough party support to survive the primary.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, who represents a portion of Wells County, also supported the motion to amend HJR 3. He was the target of attack ads sponsored by Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage but escaped a GOP primary challenge, as did Rep. Dan Leonard. It was the Huntington business owner’s refusal to disclose his committee vote in advance that prompted House Speaker Brian Bosma to move the measure to the House Elections committee.

Top of the ticket: Third District Congressman Stutzman didn’t avoid a primary battle – he has two GOP challengers, Mark William Baringer and James E. Mahoney III. Neither appears to have the campaign resources to compete against Stutzman’s name recognition and $344,000 in campaign cash.

Even with a less-than-compelling race, Allen County Republicans benefit from a well-filled ticket. By contrast, the Democratic ballot isn’t likely to draw much enthusiasm from casual voters.

“When you look at the Republican primary ballot, you see how much more formidable it is than the Democratic ballot,” said GOP County Chairman Steve Shine. “Marlin Stutzman is clearly favored to win that, and when you look at the sheriff’s race and see the candidate Democrats have, that is very harmful to their fall ticket. We’ve got great excitement on our ballot, with the legislative race and the County Council. The Democrats’ voter turnout may be at a historic low in 2014, while I expect ours to be very, very vibrant.”

The ones to watch: The GOP contest for Wyss’ Senate District 15 nomination will be a free-for-all, between Vogt, Fries, former City Councilwoman Liz Brown and business owner Jeffrey Snyder.

The prosecutor’s race is almost a rematch of the 2002 GOP race, when Loomis attacked Richards for accepting campaign contributions from attorneys and also criticized Shine for supporting her candidacy. Look for it to be the most heated of races.

While they will appear on GOP ballots in a single township, contests for trustee and advisory board in St. Joseph Township, on Fort Wayne’s northeast side, are interesting.

Seven candidates are seeking one of three seats on the board, and there are four candidates for trustee, including the daughter of the current trustee, who is not seeking re-election.

Trustee Richard Uhrick’s decision to disband the 60-year-old volunteer fire department apparently sparked the interest. Fort Wayne annexation has decreased the unincorporated areas of the township from 40,000 residents to about 5,500.

The latter are now served by the year-old St. Joseph Township Fire Rescue Corp.

Convention scene-setter: Democrats and Republicans choose candidates for secretary of state, treasurer and auditor at convention, not in the primary.

For Shine and the Allen County GOP, a heated contest for state treasurer will gin up interest in the June convention, which will convene in Fort Wayne for the first time ever.

“Having multiple candidates for the office of treasurer is good for the convention’s attendance,” Shine said. “We’re going to make it entertaining regardless, but for the pure politics of it, having a race is real interesting. It ensures people from all areas of the state will come to support candidates – that’s a positive aspect to generate convention excitement.”

Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold is seeking the office, along with Don Bates Jr., a financial adviser from Richmond, and Kelly Mitchell, a former Cass County commissioner.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 2000 and for Indiana newspapers since 1982. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by email, kfrancisco@jg.net.

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