Behning wins easily despite primary campaign scare

Indiana’s House education committee chairman, who was concerned enough about a primary challenger to begin airing television ads in the campaign’s last week, won re-election easily Tuesday.

Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, led his Republican challenger, union-backed electrician Mike Scott, 59 percent to 41 percent in final, unofficial results for Marion County. The bulk of Behning’s district is in Marion County’s Decatur Township, along with smaller parts in Morgan and Hendricks counties.

Scott had made Behning’s central role in changing education in the state over the past several years a centerpiece of his case against the incumbent. But if the results for Marion County hold true for the whole district, he will have only improved by four percentage points over his 2012 showing, when he also challenged Behning and received 37 percent of the vote.

Behning helped shepherded through the legislature bills to support the education agenda pushed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and then-Superintendent Tony Bennett. That led to new laws that created private school vouchers, expanded charter schools and instituted teacher evaluation. He was also an early backer of Common Core standards.

His vocal support for those ideas, along with A to F school grading and accountability based on testing, made Behning a lightning rod for critics, who rallied behind Scott.

Behning said Monday his internal polling had always showed him leading the race, but by smaller margins than he expected. That prompted a late fundraising push that helped pay for television ads.

Scott had worked to tie Behning’s support of private school vouchers and other Daniels initiatives to a financial crunch in Dectaur Township schools, which on Tuesday was seeking $28 million from voters to help avoid cutting busing next school year. Scott argued vouchers and charter schools drained money from public school districts.

But while Decatur’s referendum won easily with 64 percent voting yes, not nearly enough who voted for the school issue also backed Scott against Behning for him to claim victory.

Behning has served for 22 years in the House, including six years as education committee chairman.