INDIANAPOLIS — Hours before Bernie Sanders won Wisconsin by double digits Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton’s campaign was kicking off its efforts to win next month’s primary in Indiana.
Clinton supporters, including Democratic Rep. André Carson — just back from a weekend of campaigning in the Badger State — and a cardboard cut-out of the candidate herself turned up at a northeast Indianapolis strip mall to christen the campaign’s first Indiana office, an empty storefront complete with dressing rooms leftover from its commercial past.
Early voting started in the state on Tuesday and the Democratic and Republican primaries are May 3. In the meantime, delegate-rich northeastern states — where Clinton is expected to do well — will get their say at the polls. Many Democratic operatives argue that Sanders’s sixth-consecutive win Tuesday likely won’t pose a serious threat to Clinton because it won’t significantly dent her delegate lead.
While the Clinton campaign may have once thought her bid for the nomination would be wrapped up by now, Sanders isn’t showing any signs of stepping off the gas any time soon. That means states like Indiana, where there are 92 Democratic delegates up for grabs (including unpledged delegates), are now a focus for the campaign.
“Regardless of what happens in any other state, we are staffing up here and are going to compete hard here,” said Peter Hanscom, Clinton’s Indiana campaign director. “We have orders to run through the tape in Indiana.”
Between signing up for statewide canvassing efforts planned for this weekend and designing their own Clinton campaign signs and slogans — from the mundane “Win With Hillary” to the more alliterative “Pantsuit Power” — Hoosiers supporting Clinton turned out excited and emboldened Tuesday night, overlooking what was shaping up to be a bad night for the campaign in Wisconsin.
Celebrating his victory from Laramie, Wyo., Sanders spoke to the energy driving his own campaign. “Momentum is starting a campaign 60 to 70 points behind Secretary Clinton,” he said on Tuesday. “Momentum is that within the last couple of weeks there have been national polls that have showed us one point up or one point down.” Sanders opened his first office in Indianapolis last month.
Carolyn Gornick, 72, of Indianapolis, flipped back and forth between both candidates before settling on Clinton. “And it’s not because she’s a woman,” she emphasized. Instead, she said, it came down to experience. And Anya Seymour, 59, of Avon, Ind., agreed. “I started out supporting Sanders,” she said. Clinton’s pragmatism eventually won her over.
Plenty of Clinton supporters here want to see the former first lady and secretary of state lock down the nomination, but they’re not clamoring for Sanders to get out of the race — they like the competition. “I’m glad Bernie is staying in,” Seymour said. “It’s testing her fortitude,” she added.
Even Carson, Indianapolis’s native Clinton surrogate, admitted Sanders has been a good influence on the party: “I think that Senator Sanders has been a necessary apparatus in terms of talking about Black Lives Matter, in talking about the prison industrial complex, talking about disparities in the education system and policy brutally.”
Carson says he is fully behind Clinton, but he’s not sure how or when the party will unify around her. “I hope it doesn’t take too long,” he said. At the same time, he acknowledges what it means for his state to host a competitive primary. “A lot of folks forget about us,” he said, referencing the state’s late primary date.
Eight years ago this May, the Hoosier State was also in the spotlight when Clinton narrowly defeated Barack Obama. Pouring early resources into a state, Democrats agreed, is good for the party come November — regardless of who the nominee is. “That engagement — it doesn’t leave. You saw that in 2008. You saw campaign offices stick around,” said Indiana Democratic Communications Director Drew Anderson.
The campaign button on Kelly Dyer’s purse proudly proclaims that the 54-year-old Indianapolis resident has been in Clinton’s camp since that 2008 primary. But she’s glad that a prolonged primary is again earning Indiana some attention. “This office wouldn’t have opened” without it, she said, and that’s good for congressional and gubernatorial candidates in the state, too.
Some national Democrats, who are focused on reaping as many down-ballot victories from the presidential maelstrom as they can, agree that intra-party competition may be helpful in certain states.
Achim Bergmann, a Democratic consultant who works on congressional races, is looking toward California, a state with a top-two election system, where having a motivated Democratic base turnout for the presidential primary will be a boon for down-ballot Democrats.
That primary is even later than Indiana’s — in early June. “There are plenty of Democrats, myself included, who will not be disappointed to see Sanders still competing come June 7,” Bergmann said.