SBT: Colwell: Pale or vivid, color tells the election story

Let’s look at the color of the counties, all 10 in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District.

In 2016, nine were red, one was blue. That combination gave the district a really red color — the color the TV networks use to designate a Republican win — as Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski won big, very big, re-elected to a third term.

Only St. Joseph County was colored blue, the color for a Democratic win. And it was a pale blue, very pale. Walorski darn near carried the largest and most Democratic county in the district.

She also won big, very big, in 2014, with a similar color scheme in the district — nine red, one blue.

It will be a closer race this time — Democratic challenger Mel Hall vs. Walorski. Hall, unlike the prior two Democratic challengers, has the resources and organization to threaten a possible upset of the entrenched incumbent.

Walorski, realizing the threat and responding to it, agreed to two televised debates this time — winning the first, losing the second — and has found it necessary to hit with highly negative TV ads to counter the positive image Hall built earlier with his ads.

Could the district change color?

National analysts think it unlikely.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which didn’t waste resources on doomed Democratic challengers in the two prior elections, now designates the 2nd District for targeting in its “Red to Blue” program. That’s the effort to turn districts from Republican incumbents to Democratic challengers in key races in the quest for control of the House.

The designation comes late but is significant. The DCCC doesn’t spend a cent in a district, no matter how great the party’s nominee seems personally, if there’s no chance to win. Decisions are pragmatic, not sentimental.

The candidates have polls. They won’t divulge results publicly.

However, the Hall campaign provided results of its professional poll to the DCCC before the committee decided that Hall was close enough to merit priority consideration.

If Hall is to win, he needs to do a lot of coloring in the counties.

He must turn St. Joseph County from pale blue to bright blue, and turn the portion of LaPorte County in the district and Starke County from red to blue.

Elkhart County, which in 2016 provided Walorski with a plurality nearly 10 times the size of the Democratic margin in St. Joseph County, will pretty much guarantee a Walorski win if it remains such a vivid red.

Hall needs both a blue wave in St. Joseph County, close to a tsunami, and a way to hold back some of Elkhart County’s red sea.

The other six counties, Fulton, Kosciusko, Marshall, Miami, Pulaski and Wabash, have been voting strongly Republican in congressional contests, just as envisioned in the Republican-controlled redistricting — gerrymandering.

While some of these counties are relatively small in population, each one of them in the 2016 congressional race provided a bigger Republican margin than the Democratic margin in St. Joseph County.

It’s highly unlikely that Hall will carry any of these six counties. And he certainly won’t carry Elkhart County. His hope in campaigning in those areas is to add a little blue coloring to turn some parts, not red, but a bit purple.

Many things will be involved in the coloring: Issues, especially health care; reaction to negative TV ads, which usually work; views on President Trump, whether to empower or restrain him; and the Senate race, particularly whether Sen. Joe Donnelly runs strong in his former House district.

How the 10 counties are colored, and whether those colors are vivid or pale, will determine whether the TV networks on election night show Indiana’s 2nd District as red or blue — or too close to call.

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