Democrats once again have trouble finding candidates

Democrat donkey in red white and blue. Isolated on a white background with a clipping path.

GREENFIELD — Politics might be a two-party game, but looking at the list of local candidates for office in Hancock County in the May primary, you wouldn’t know it.

With filing for local offices closing Friday, Feb. 7, there is so far only one party set to be represented on the county ballot — the Republicans. Hancock County Democratic Party chairman Randy Johnson said he does not know of anyone who plans to file before the deadline.

“There’s a lot of people that talked about it, but that’s all it’s been is talk,” Johnson said.

That’s not unusual, and most county races will likely be decided in the Republican primary May 5. The Democratic Party can add candidates to the ballot after the primary, but they will likely be underdogs.

Only one Democrat ran in the municipal elections in 2019 elections: Zachary LaFavers, a 22-year-old who was handily defeated in the Greenfield mayoral race by incumbent Chuck Fewell.

When it comes to limited or nonexistent slates of candidates, Johnson said, “We’ve gotten used to it.”

As of this week, only three people have filed to run as county delegates to the state party convention, where statewide candidates are nominated. The county needs 22. Johnson said that, too, is normal. If not enough candidates file to run, the remainder can be appointed.

Most of the county party’s work will likely take place after the primary election, Johnson said, when members will volunteer to do door-to-door canvassing and phone banking for state candidates.

“We’re going to continue to do our job and do the best we can,” Johnson said.

Though there may not be any local candidates to campaign for, some Hancock County Democrats are still getting involved in the 2020 election cycle. One local party member, Tim Harris, has been collecting local signatures for multiple gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.

To appear on the Indiana primary ballot, major-party candidates for president or for governor must collect a total of 4,500 signatures, at least 500 from each of the state’s congressional districts. Hancock County is located in the 6th Congressional District. Though it’s also home to larger cities Muncie and Columbus, Harris said it can still be tricky for a campaign to collect all the signatures it needs.

“It’s quite difficult to get signatures for Democrats in Indiana,” Harris said.

After meeting a campaign volunteer for state Sen. Eddie Melton, who at that time was running governor, Harris decided to see what he could do to help Democrats get onto the state’s ballot. He reached out to the gubernatorial campaigns of Melton and Josh Owens — who have both since dropped out — and Woody Myers. He also has reached out to major presidential contenders.

“They’re so excited when we reach out to them, because there’s so little active Democrat participation in Indiana,” Harris said.

At meetings of the Hancock County Democratic Party, Harris has collected signatures for the gubernatorial candidates and for presidential contenders Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Harris also manages the social media and web presence of the county Democratic Party. He said he thinks the work the local party is currently doing is helping build a foundation that will help strong candidates compete in the future. He said Democrats have gained recent victories in even the reddest states, such as the unexpected triumph of Andrew Beshear in Kentucky’s 2019 race for governor.

“I definitely feel like we are making a difference,” Harris said. “It’s surprising the number of closet Democrats and closet liberals who are sympathetic to Democratic ideas. If there’s a strong enough candidate, they will get behind them.”

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A number of interesting races are developing on the Republican ballot for the May 5 primary. Which races will be contested? We’ll have a complete list of candidates as the filing period closes on Friday.