Ritz’s campaign was decidedly anti-Bennett, portraying him as a heavy- handed advocate of top-down decisions that forced federal and state decisions on local schools.
It’s a message that seemed to resonate with some small-government Republicans and with some of the state’s Tea Party groups who professed unhappiness with some of federal education standards that Bennett seemed to embrace. The Howey/DePauw poll showed that Bennett, who had associated himself strongly with other Republicans on the ticket, was polling at only 68 percent with voters who described themselves as “very conservative” and at 52 percent with voters who called themselves “somewhat conservative.”
And while the poll showed that GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence had 82 percent support from Republican voters, Bennett had only 68 percent support from the Republicans polled. One of the more striking revelations in the poll: Among all female voters polled – Republican, Democrat and independent – Ritz had a 5 point lead over Bennett.
But the poll also showed something that made the race seem even more unpredictable: 24 percent of voters in the Howey/DePauw poll said they were firmly undecided about which candidate to pick.
The campaigns and the messages they delivered couldn’t have been more different. Bennett raised more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions, with some of that money coming from prominent outside sources, including Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton who donated $200,000 to Bennett’s campaign.
Ritz, meanwhile, raised only about $250,000. In contrast to Bennett’s campaign ads, which started back in September, and were seen around much of the state, Ritz’s campaign didn’t start running TV ads until just days before the election and they were run in a handful of media markets and targeted cable TV stations.
Bennett’s first run for the office was close. In 2008, a late October poll showed Bennett was ahead by 4 points, with about one-third of the voters undecided going into election day. Bennett went on the win election by a 51-49 percent margin.