Teachers, both Republicans and Democrats, sent out about 100,000 post-cards with hand-written messages to family and friends across the state, pleading with them to support Ritz. A group of teachers in heavily Republican Boone County launched a “Republicans for Ritz” site on Facebook, calling on GOP party faithful to split their ticket and vote for the Democrat Ritz.
Typical of the grassroots campaign was the kind of call that Fernando Espinal, 27, got from his fiancee’s mother, a teacher’s assistant at a small-town school in northern Indiana who usually votes Republican.
“She said, ‘Tony Bennett is strangling education. Don’t vote for him,’ ” said Espinal, who spent Election Day at a union hall in Indianapolis calling Democratic voters to remind them to get to the polls.
Sitting near him was Jacob Miller, 18, who’d just voted for the first time. “Everybody I know said they’re supporting Ritz, whether Democrat or Republican,” Miller said.
Ritz kept up the fight all the way through election day when she held a series of press availabilities around central Indiana, while Bennett declined all media interview requests during the day Tuesday.
Brian Howey, editor of Howey Politics Indiana, called the contest the state’s “sleeper race.” Media coverage and interest in the race had been diminished significantly by the higher profile races for a U.S. Senate seat and the Governor’s office.
Ritz, a longtime registered Republican who switched party affiliation just last year, intentionally set up her own campaign headquarters and stayed away from the Democratic field offices.
Nationally, the contest has been the radar screen of supporters and opponents alike who were watching how the sweeping reforms that Bennett championed would play with voters.
Bennett’s campaign for his second term had focused on those changes as cutting-edge reforms that make Indiana the model for the nation and he promised more to come.