Clinton Intensifies Ground Work in Ind.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- At Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's headquarters here the other day, the campaign staff was brainstorming about ways to reach beyond the voters who appear on traditional Democratic Party lists. Did anyone know fathers able to distribute flyers at Little League practice? When do the farmers markets open?
"We spend a lot of time trying to find new people and get them plugged in," said Clinton regional field director Pete Hackeman.
That has not always been the case. As it continues to refine its tactics, the Clinton campaign is devoting far more energy to on-the-ground efforts in Indiana than it did in many of the early states she lost to Sen. Barack Obama, who deployed scores of young staffers to unlikely places and profited from the power of grass-roots organizing.
Driven by strategy and necessity as the New York Democrat's advertising budget runs low, the Clinton campaign has opened 28 offices in Indiana, where she faces another critical test on May 6. With 72 delegates at stake in Indiana, the Clinton family has made more than 50 stops in the state already, far more than Obama and his wife, Michelle.
"They've gotten religion in terms of on-the-streets activism and the importance of it," said South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke, an Obama supporter, of the Clintons. "They're working the streets a lot harder, and to their credit. It will help with her campaign in the final vote total here."
Clinton learned the hard way when the candidate who marketed herself as the inevitable nominee failed to knock Obama out of the race in its early stages.
The campaign erred, some strategists acknowledged, in assuming that name recognition, television advertisements and endorsements would be enough to put away Obama.
"A lot of those assumptions have been put aside, and that puts us in a more aggressive posture," said Indiana state director Robby Mook, who led the victorious Clinton effort in Ohio, where the dueling ground organizations neared parity. "It's a whole new ballgame."
The two campaigns each have four paid workers and an array of volunteers in South Bend, the heart of a region rich in Democratic votes about 90 miles from Obama's home turf of Chicago. The area features a diverse electorate that propelled a Democratic upset in 2006 when Rep. Joe Donnelly won Indiana's 2nd District over incumbent Republican Chris Chocola.
Obama carries key advantages in the state -- most notably his familiarity to voters in northwestern Indiana who receive Chicago television signals. Supporters are driving across the border by the carload to knock on doors for the freshman senator, who hopes to make up for his April 22 loss in Pennsylvania with wins here and in North Carolina.
Clinton, boosted in Ohio and Pennsylvania by support from popular governors, is tapping networks of Democratic activists loyal to Sen. Evan Bayh, the state's best-known Democrat and, briefly, a presidential candidate. Beyond introducing Clinton at rallies, Bayh has traveled the state on his own to build a small army of supporters.
"It was not a hard sell. He said, 'Here's why. This is her skill set,' " recalled Butch Morgan, the St. Joseph County party chairman, who received a call from Bayh, the two-term senator and former governor. "He is the most respected and successful Democrat we have had in Indiana for a long, long time."