Chris Sautter: 10 takeaways from the epic Indiana primary
Friday, May 06, 2016 10:15 AM
WASHINGTON – It was like old times waiting for election results from Indiana’s primary Tuesday. Hoosier politics is a whole lot more fun when it is relevant nationally. These are some lessons I draw from Tuesday’s election.
1. Message wins elections and Donald Trump’s message resonated with Hoosiers considerably more than Ted Cruz’s. The conventional wisdom several weeks out was that Ted Cruz was a better fit for Indiana’s conservatism than Donald Trump. Instead, Trump’s blue-collar message of strong leadership and getting tough on trade and illegal immigration resonated much more than Cruz’s more narrowly focused hard-line evangelical message. In addition, Cruz’s nakedly political deal with John Kasich and the naming of Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate came across as desperate and undercut his claim that he was the candidate of principle.
2. Trump’s “take no prisoners” style of politics worked. Most presidential candidates come to negative campaigning reluctantly. Donald Trump embraced it from the start of his campaign as he systematically destroyed his opposition from Jeb Bush to Scott Walker to Ben Carson to Marco Rubio. Trump’s willingness to go on the attack was key to his growing success. His goal with Cruz was to take away what Cruz claimed was a central strength — trustworthiness — by labeling him “Lyin’ Ted.” By the time the two faced off in Indiana, Cruz’s campaign was unraveling.
3. Trump is favored to win Indiana in November. National polls show Clinton starting out with a double-digit lead over Trump with some experts like respected University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato predicting an Electoral College blowout (See pages 18-19). In Indiana, however, early polls peg the Donald the favorite. The presidential race in Indiana could tighten if Clinton’s national lead balloons upward. But it is clear that a big Clinton win nationally, if it happens, will not necessarily transfer to the Hoosier state. In other words, down ballot Democrats cannot count on a national wave to carry them to victory.
4. Governor Pence’s vulnerability is further exposed. Pence’s inability to make his endorsement matter whatsoever is further proof of his vulnerability in the general election. As recent polling indicates, Mike Pence’s reelection prospects are probably no better than 50/50 as his favorable ratings are in the low 40s. Pence’s endorsement of Cruz proved to be another embarrassment for the governor.
5. Hillary Clinton took Indiana for granted. Hillary Clinton lost an opportunity in Indiana to finally put Bernie Sanders away. Instead, Clinton spent insufficient time in Indiana and nothing on advertising, apparently believing her lead in the polls and momentum from victories out East would carry her. Meanwhile, Sanders spent $2 million on ads and held huge rallies around the state. The result is that Sanders won virtually every county except those in the Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville markets where Sanders did not spend. The decision to take Indiana for granted was a strategic blunder as his win gives Sanders new energy and makes it more difficult for Clinton to pivot to the general election and Trump.
6. Hillary Clinton wins even when she loses. Bernie Sanders won Indiana decisively but netted only a half dozen of the state’s 83 delegates. Sanders has no chance of winning enough pledged delegates to surpass Clinton even if he sweeps the party’s dozens remaining contests. As was the case with Obama in 2008, Clinton’s nomination is all but certain no matter what occurs in the final weeks of the primary season.
7. Todd Young is the favorite to win the open U.S. Senate seat. The Republican establishment went all out to make sure Todd Young defeated Marlin Stutzman and it paid off as Young won in a walk. As a result, Baron Hill will have a tougher time convincing Washington Democrats to invest in the race. Young starts out with a big lead in the polls and fundraising. Hill is an excellent candidate, but he will need a break to make this race truly competitive.
8. A candidate can move into an Indiana congressional district from out-of-state and win an primary. Tennessean Trey Hollingsworth and his father spent nearly $2 million to buy the 9th District Republican nomination. Ron Drake spent less than $2,500 winning the 8th District Democratic nomination after moving back to Sullivan County following more than two decades in Washington and Atlanta. Drake defeated former Indianapolis area state Rep. David Orentlicher by just 61 votes. Orentlicher raised over $200,000, but his move into the district from Indianapolis seems to have been more of a liability than Drake’s return home from out-of-state.
9. Shelli Yoder faces a controversial opponent. Monroe County Council member and 2012 9th District Democratic nominee Shelli Yoder faces a carpetbagger instead of incumbent Todd Young as she did four years ago. Yoder proved to be a terrific candidate and is raising considerably more money this time. But she is going to have to convince Washington Democrats that Hollingsworth is more vulnerable in the general election than he was in the Republican primary. Some are skeptical of Yoder’s chances given the Republican leanings of the district.
10. Bobby Knight still holds sway over some Hoosiers. The legendary Hall of Fame coach proved to be a real asset for Trump even if his praise of Trump included some bizarre arguments, such as Trump is not afraid to use nuclear bombs. As much as Knight helped in the primary, Trump would be well advised to keep Knight under wraps during the general elections.
Sautter is a Democratic political consultant based in Washington.