The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local Politics

May 6, 2014

Two spots of tea for old-guard GOP

Endorsed Republicans win five of seven primary races

ANDERSON, Ind. — When the dust settled on primary day, the Madison County Republican Party won in five of the seven races where it slated candidates.

For the first time in almost four decades the Madison County Republican Party slated candidates in the primary. Three of the endorsements came in races where an incumbent member of the party was running for re-election.

Party chairman Russ Willis and former Madison County councilman Mike Gaskill, who has been an advocate for more conservative candidates, have engaged in a verbal battle for more than a year.

The final voter turnout in Madison County was just shy of 16 percent, a low figure Willis was anticipating.

“The low turnout probably didn’t hurt us,” he said.

Willis now has to try to reunite a fractured party in time for the Nov. 4 general election.

“I have to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he said. “I will have a heart-to-heart talk with all the candidates, including Kelly Gaskill. The winning candidates have to work together.”

Willis said there will be a brochure that will name all of the party's candidates.

He hoped all the slated candidates would have won but recognized that the voters make the final decision and the party will move forward.

“We will have a unified ticket,” Willis said. “The primary election is where you have the skirmishes and then move forward. I believe in the big tent theory — welcome everyone who wants to support our candidates.”

Mike Gaskill said Kelly Gaskill and Rick Gardner never left the Republican Party; it was the party that decided not to slate the incumbents.

“I don’t think they deserved that,” he said of the slating process.

Gaskill said the Madison County tea party is more conservative than the traditional party base.

“It’s not the tea party versus the establishment,” he said. “This all started when the council repealed the wheel tax. The party went after certain individuals.”

Gaskill said people will continue to try and be involved in the party in the future. He said his faction is trying to build the party on principles that serve the people of Madison County.

Ludy Watkins, chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party, said the impact of the feud in the GOP on the fall election will remain to be determined.

"We have to wait and see," she said.

Slated party candidate Tom Shepherd defeated incumbent David McCartney for the District 1 seat on the Madison County Council and party-backed candidate Steve Sumner turned back a challenge from former councilman Mike Phipps for the vacant 2nd District seat.

Incumbent Kelly Gaskill won the party’s nomination for Madison County treasurer, easily beating the party-backed candidacy of Micah Mitchell. Rick Gardner, the incumbent 4th District councilman, defeated party-backed candidate Anthony Emery.

The slated candidates — Clerk Darlene Likens, Recorder Linda Smith and Commissioner of the South District Steffanie Owens — handily defeated the Gaskill-recruited candidates.

Watkins said the turnout was the lowest that she can ever remember in Madison County. Most primaries in the recent past drew at least 20 percent of the registered voters to the polls.

"I expected the Republican vote to be higher," she said. "I'm disappointed. We should have had a bigger turnout. This is where the party selects our candidates."

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.

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