Clinton Campaign Looks Rusty In Gary, Indiana

05/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dan Treul Dan Treul is a communications specialist living in Grand Rapids, MI.

Despite a bruising several weeks in the national media, Barack Obama supporters in Indiana remain "fired up and ready to go," confident of victory in Tuesday's primary and optimistic that the party will begin to coalesce.

The atmosphere at Obama HQ in Gary, IN highlighted that sentiment Saturday, as both the campaign and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sent out hundreds of volunteers "targeting the whole city," according to Shana Caruthers, a volunteer in the Obama field office.

"Everybody that comes in here is excited about the cause," said Caruthers, a lifelong Gary resident. "It's crunch time. We're gonna get it. We're gonna bring it home."

Despite a perpetual, misty cold, Genie Kastrup, political director for the SEIU Illinois Council, said more than 350 SEIU, Change to Win, and Obama campaign volunteers showed up to canvas the Steel City.

As noted by the Associated Press, some political observers see Indiana as a "Rust Belt rematch" of the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, which Obama lost to Clinton by ten points. According to the AP, however, "there are differences in geography, age, religion and rules that permit independents to vote, each of which figures to benefit Obama." Yet Clinton historically performs well amongst blue collar voters, and she is supported by Indiana's respected Democratic Senator Evan Bayh.

Yet on the ground in Gary, Indiana - an undeniable, blue collar buckle in the Rust Belt - all signs indicate an Obama victory.

"It's gonna come down to getting out the voters," said Erik Sjobeck, an Obama volunteer who flew in from California a week ago to help. This is Sjobeck's first time volunteering on a political campaign. He's been a supporter of the Illinois senator since February, when he was impressed by the personal attention he received after sending a letter.

"I'm still waiting for my letter from the Hillary campaign," he said. Sjobeck sent that letter in November of 2005.

Despite the remarkable distance, Sjobeck's dedication clearly is not unusual. Many volunteers came from neighboring Illinois to help.

Mark Inendrino, from Schiller Park, IL, summed up the volunteer's excitement well.

"We're winning, definitely," he said, preparing to head out for a second round of canvassing. He called the Wright controversy "nonsense," saying "people are smarter than that."

Devlin Schoop, from Chicago, agreed, saying the controversy has had "no effect whatsoever" on both volunteer - and voter - enthusiasm. He and his wife, Lynda, predict nothing short of victory on Tuesday.

"I think things have been coming together for quite a long time now and, well," he said, "we'll leave it at that." According to Obama volunteers on the ground, Indiana turnout is expected to be high.

"There were a lot of people that were dead set on voting," said Mark Drury, a volunteer from Hyde Park, IL who spent the morning canvassing Gary neighborhoods. Drury and his companion, Jackie Sibblies, drove to Indiana to volunteer after watching the Clinton campaign advance in recent weeks.

According to most volunteers, however, Clinton has not made visible inroads in Gary.

"I haven't seen a single Hillary sign all the time I've been here," said Inendrino. Similarly, neither he nor fellow volunteer Bridget Shopp have seen a single Clinton volunteer.

"We actually had one woman who tried to threaten us," laughed Shopp, of Algonquin, IL.

"She was afraid we were with the Hillary campaign," explained Inendrino.

Both Shopp, 30, and Inendrino, 25, are indicative of the continuing youth support for Obama - a factor that may play a role on Tuesday in Indiana, which has a significantly younger population than Pennsylvania.

"It feels good to be voting for someone as opposed to against someone," said Shopp, who works in sales at an insurance agency. Like most of the volunteers, Shopp and Inendrino avoided sharp criticism of Clinton, instead focusing on the merits of their candidate. Still, the remaining uncertainty of the final outcome has them slightly on edge. Asked if they thought the party would unite behind Clinton in the event of an unorthodox nomination, they were divided.

"I do," said Shopp without reservation.

"I won't," said Inendrino, with equal authority.

Sibblies took the middle road, saying that Obama supporters' distaste for Clinton is "not nearly as strong as the hatred for Bush, and a lot of people threatened to move Canada if he was reelected, and when he was, most of them didn't."

The overriding sentiment amongst volunteers on the ground in Gary, however, is that of confidence heading into the primary.

"Things are looking great for Tuesday," said Valerie Smith, a longtime Obama supporter who lives just outside the city in Indiana. "We're still movin' right along."

For Sjobeck, the fight isn't over until the plane is wheels up for California. "I'm gonna be here until, God willing, we have a victory."