Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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November 23, 2012

How an unknown won with social media

There were rumblings this summer and fall that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett might have a race on his hand.

This was statistically quantified with the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground poll taken Oct. 28-30 that showed Bennett with a mere 40-36 percent lead over Democrat Glenda Ritz. An incumbent at just 40 percent that late in the game is, essentially, a dead politician walking.

Ritz was a political novice and an Indianapolis school teacher, recruited by Indiana Democrats to fill a ballot position. The party's platform called for the office to be one appointed by the governor. In fact, a Democrat hadn't been elected to one of the "statewide" executive branch offices (below governor and lieutenant governor) since 1996.

When the ballots were counted Nov. 6, Ritz had pulled off a stunning 1,335,232 to 1,185,104 vote upset. She received 61,656 more votes that Gov.-elect Mike Pence, who outspent her by more than 20 to 1.

How did this happen?

There were several elements to this story. One western Indiana Republican county chairman told me there were about 30 other, mostly rural GOP chairs looking for "payback" to Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had backed Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas over Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who won the nomination and office in 2008.

There were educators chafing under the sprawling education reforms initiated by Bennett and Daniels and passed in 2011 that brought changes to teacher evaluations and the grading of schools on an A through F scale. There had been the state takeover of schools in Gary and Indianapolis with more in the pipeline.

Thus, there was discontent across the spectrum. But something else happened.

The Ritz campaign faced a distinct money disparity, with Bennett raising north of $1.6 million that fueled hundreds of TV ads for more than two months, while Ritz raised a meager $300,000 - peanuts for a statewide race.

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