Mayor Greg Fischer was elected to a third term Tuesday after an optimistic campaign that promoted his work to improve Louisville during his first eight years in office. His main challenger, Republican Angela Leet, painted a different, more dismal, picture of the city under Fischer’s lead.
Fischer won more than 60 percent of the vote. Were his supporters motivated by his message and policies? Or, in a time of increased partisanship, were voters in the majority-Democrat city falling back on party loyalty?
About half of Louisville voters chose the straight party option on their ballots Tuesday. Roughly 62 percent of those went for Democrats, while about 35 percent voted a straight Republican ticket.
Fischer and Leet disagreed a lot throughout their campaigns, on everything from the economy to the future of the Louisville police chief.
In his opening statements at a debate last month, Fischer said, “We’re experiencing an economic renaissance.”
Minutes later, Leet shot back, “We have the homelessness of San Francisco, the violence of Chicago and we are one employer away from becoming the next Detroit.”
Dewey Clayton, a professor of political science at the University of Louisville, said it’s typical for a candidate looking to take out an incumbent to run on a starkly different message.
“Sometimes candidates will try to distinguish themselves from other candidates,” he said. “I do think policy clearly comes into play but that’s not to say partisanship doesn’t come into play as well.”
Compared to federal and state races, policy can be more of a factor in local elections, Clayton said. That’s because voters are more likely to run into local politicians around town — and to notice whether they’re doing their jobs.
“At the local level, you can see if your trash is being picked up. You can see if the parks are being cleaned. You can see if there’s investment in your downtown neighborhoods,” he said.
But national politics can still influence local elections, especially when the president works to tie himself to nearby races, as Clayton said Donald Trump did.
“Maybe some of that enthusiasm for him can actually trickle down to the local level as well,” Clayton said.
Voters have many motivations, and partisanship is difficult to ignore, Clayton said. But on a local level, voters put a lot of stock into results and ideas, too.