What municipal election results could mean for the Statehouse in 2024

Candidate signs sit outside Hamilton County's early voting location. (Credit: Kaitlin Lange)

Nov 08, 2023

Indiana’s 2023 municipal election results are in. For a lot of the state, it was the status quo: The parties already in power kept control of their respective cities. 

Democrats had a few notable victories flipping mayoral offices in Evansville, Terre Haute and Lawrence, while keeping control of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. Republicans, meanwhile, held off Democratic gains in Hamilton County. 

“I’m not sure that either party did exceptional, at least based on the results we have right now,” said Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Indianapolis. 

Here’s what the preliminary election results could mean for the Statehouse and 2024 Statehouse elections. 

One state lawmaker will step down

One legislator will be leaving the Indiana General Assembly early after winning his election for mayor. Democratic Sen. Eddie Melton, first elected to the Senate in 2016, won the Gary mayoral election by a landslide, securing 95% of the vote.

Party insiders will have to choose a replacement for Melton to serve out the last year of his term, adding to the growing number of lawmakers serving in the General Assembly who weren’t chosen by the general electorate. 

Once a new lawmaker is chosen, nearly a quarter of the body’s lawmakers will have first entered office via a caucus election.

Republican Rep. Ed Clere, the other state lawmaker who ran for a municipal office, lost to Democrat Jeff Gahan in the New Albany mayoral election by 4 percentage points. Clere, first elected to the House in 2008, is one of the more moderate Republicans in the Statehouse on social issues, having voted against the 2022 statewide abortion ban and a bill this year banning gender-affirming care for minors in the state.

Democrats’ path to victory still won’t be easy in Hamilton County in 2024

Republicans will continue to lead the city of Carmel following the high-stakes race to replace outgoing Republican Mayor Jim Brainard after nearly three decades in office.

Democrats had hoped the open seat would provide them with an opportunity to flip the city, but they fell well short of that goal. Republican Sue Finkam claimed victory over Democrat Miles Nelson, winning by almost 15 percentage points. 

“We have come on this journey together,” Nelson said in his concession speech. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to cross the finish line.”

Elsewhere in Hamilton County, Republicans held their ground. Democrats likely will keep one city council seat in Carmel and lose one in Fishers, assuming no recounts are requested.

Yes, municipal elections can be very different than those in presidential election years, but Republicans’ ability to keep Democrats from expanding their footprint means Hamilton County still isn’t as purple as Democrats would like to think it is. 

Had Democrats picked up any seats they would have had more momentum heading into a crucial 2024 Statehouse election cycle with an unprecedented number of open seats in Hamilton County, a suburban battleground for the parties. If Democrats are to eventually pick away at the Republican supermajority in the Statehouse, the conventional wisdom has long been that the path to victory runs through Hamilton County.

Three House Republicans in Hamilton County have announced they won’t be running for reelection in 2024: Carmel Reps. Jerry Torr and Donna Schaibley, plus Noblesville Rep. Chuck Goodrich. (Goodrich is running for Indiana’s 5th Congressional District instead). 

Republicans lost in Indianapolis but reduced their losing margin

Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett was able to win reelection by a landslide in Indianapolis, despite Republican challenger Jefferson Shreve’s deep pockets. Hogsett won nearly 60% of the vote compared to Shreve’s almost 41%. 

Maintaining control of Indianapolis is a big victory for Democrats, however, there is some good news for Republicans as well. The margin of defeat was smaller than four years ago when then-Republican candidate Jim Merritt lost to Hogsett by 45 percentage points. 

Marion County contains the most Statehouse seats of any county in Indiana, so Republicans’ ability to keep at least some of those seats even in a decisively blue county would help them maintain their supermajority in the legislature. 

Could other Statehouse districts be competitive in the future? 

The municipal election results also provide a clue as to which other Statehouse races may be competitive or safe in 2024 and beyond. 

In Anderson, for example, Democratic Mayor Thomas Broderick Jr. was reelected, but by only a small margin. That could mean another close Anderson Statehouse race in 2024. One year ago Republican Kyle Pierce narrowly beat incumbent Democratic Rep. Terri Austin

Over in neighboring Delaware County,  Republican Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour won a second term Tuesday night, which could signal that Muncie’s State House seat is one to watch. Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, beat her opponent by little more than 5 percentage points in 2022. 

Democrats, however, were able to flip a few seats on Tuesday.

Stephanie Terry won the Evansville mayoral race, beating her opponent Republican Natalie Rascher by 9 percentage points. Republican Rep. Tim O’Brien’s district contains a portion of Evansville, so that could be a race to keep an eye on. 

The other big Democratic win of the night was in Terre Haute where Democrat Brandon Sakbun beat incumbent Republican Mayor Duke Bennett by nearly 20 percentage points.  That’s a good sign for Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, heading into 2024 should she run again. 

“It’s a nice forewarning in a way, even though obviously the issues are different,” Merrifield Wilson said. “Anytime the opposite party is successful in your backyard, you absolutely have to take note.” 

Check out our short summary on TikTok.

Contact Kaitlin Lange on X @kaitlin_lange or email her at [email protected]

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Header image: Candidate signs sit outside Hamilton County’s early voting location. (Credit: Kaitlin Lange)

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