INDIANAPOLIS — Democrat challenger Glenda Ritz pulled off a stunning upset Tuesday night, beating incumbent Republican Tony Bennett in the unexpectedly tight race for Indiana superintendent of public instruction.
Ritz, a public school teacher who switched political parties to take on Bennett, will be the first Democrat to hold the state superintendent’s office since 1971.
“I told you we had a big grassroots campaign going on,” said Ritz, who waged a low-cost, high-impact campaign with less than one-fifth of the money that Bennett had raised.
Dan Parker, head of the Indiana Democrat Party, introduced Ritz to a cheering crowd of supporters at the party’s election night headquarters, saying her victory marked the “end of the war” on teachers and public education.
Ritz, who’d accused Bennett of pushing an anti-public school agenda, told the crowd she’s an “educator not a politician.”
“We will have an education agenda, not a political agenda,” Ritz said.
Late last week, the independent Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll showed the race between Bennett and Ritz was tighter than many had anticipated. Just four percentage points separated Ritz from Bennett’s lead, with about 24 percent of voters polled saying they were still undecided.
While Bennett had nearly a five-to-one campaign cash advantage, Ritz staged an aggressive, grassroots campaign that made the most out of social media and deployed thousands of teachers to get out an anti-Bennett message.
Those teachers were angry with the massive education overhaul championed by Bennett with the help of a Republican-controlled legislature. Those sweeping changes included the rapid expansion of charter schools, creation of the nation’s largest school voucher program, a merit pay system that ties teacher pay and tenure to student performance, more high-stakes testing for grade promotion and graduation, and a controversial to A-to-F evaluation system of the state’s schools.