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State Democrats urged to stress values in upcoming May 2018 primary elections

By SCOTT L. MILEY - CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, last weekend pumped up a crowd of about 200 Democratic candidates and volunteers prepping for the May primary.

“We have to work really, really hard on having the best technology, the best voter turnout programs, all those things, But at the core, none of that matters if we’re not focused on the right thing, which is making sure that Hoosier families can have a better life,” Donnelly said following his talk.

State Democrats gathered in downtown Indianapolis for a boot camp for first-time candidates. The program was a partnership between the Indiana Democratic Party and the National Democratic Training Committee. Previous training sessions had been held around the state. On Saturday, candidates representing township to statewide contests received training simultaneously.

And they were told at least once that “things happen.” They were reminded to look at the unexpected success by Donald Trump in the 2016 race for president. Or the stunning win in Alabama by Democrat Doug Jones over Trump-backed Roy Moore for a U.S. Senate seat.

“I think a lot of the events that are taking place in the country are really creating the enthusiasm for people to step up and engage in public service where it was comfortable for people to say that others will take care of it,” said Terre Haute attorney Chris Gambill, running to unseat Republican Jon Ford from Senate District 38 seat representing Vigo and Clay counties.

“So we had a family discussion. ‘Is this the time that one of us should step up and do what we can to represent our community and be an advocate for our community?’” Gambill said.

Harlan Vandersaar of Whitestown has already formed a small team of supporters in his bid for the House District 28 seat held by Republican Jeff Thompson of Lizton.

“I had an idea of what it was going to take, but this kind of solidified the commitment that I need to put in and what I need to do to give myself a viable shot at winning,” Vandersaar said.

Tom Hedde, former Camden clerk-treasurer, is running to unseat state Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo. District 38 represents parts of Carroll, Cass, Clinton and Howard counties.

“I learned a lot as far as getting out in the field, going door-to-door,” Hedde said. “In a red state like this, you can’t always skip doors.”

Donnelly urged attendees to make phone calls, work non-stop and stress values.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said, “We need to make sure that we are giving activists and volunteers and candidates tools they need to talk to voters so they can understand what the choices are in the election.

“I said at the beginning of the day that there are plenty of things for us to be against, but we’ve got to be talking about but we’re for as Democrats and that’s for good wages, for early childhood education, for redistricting reform, for fairness, for tackling the opioid crisis, those kinds of things,” Zody said.

Donnelly addressed the lunch crowd minutes after a trainer discussed the analytics of predicting voter turnout and the likelihood of winning a seat. Earlier, candidates were tutored in the art of campaigning, forming a core of supporters and canvassing door-to-door. “It helped me focus on field strategy,” said Naomi Bechtold, seeking to run for Indiana House District 24 that includes portions of Boone and Hamilton counties. “You can’t go to our voters and complain. It’s got to be all about your values.”

That seat is currently held by Republican Donna Schaibley of Carmel.

The Saturday session came as outdoor temperatures were near zero.

“One of the key takeaways for me is that I’ve got to be knocking on some doors so I better buy myself a downfilled parka because I think next week we’re going to do some door knocking,” said MeChelle Callen, who is seeking the House District 40 seat held by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon.

The filing period for candidates begins today for the May 8 primary.

Republicans, who have been holding similar sessions around the state, will gather Friday and Saturday in Indianapolis for the Congress of Counties. Presentation topics for the Republicans include “Defeating Joe Donnelly: The Plan.”

On Monday, Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer said, “He’s very vulnerable. We just need to focus on being in a position when the primary’s over to take our nominee and help them have a successful campaign in the fall.”