EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Tired of politics? You may want to go into hibernation in 2020. In New Zealand. Or spend the year at sea.
The sight, sound and fury of a presidential election year — with Donald Trump on center stage — will come to Evansville in rallies held by both sides in America’s angry political divide. Having already rallied their troops over the ongoing presidential impeachment drama, local conservative and progressive organizers have made that clear.
Trump won’t suck up all the oxygen in the room.
Vice President Mike Pence has verbally agreed to come to Evansville on April 23 to headline Right to Life of Southwest Indiana’s 2020 fundraising banquet, according to the local anti-abortion group. Throw in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s re-election bid, the possibility that 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon may be running his last campaign, former Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel’s statewide campaign for attorney general and a host of countywide races, and you’ve got one heaping mound of politics.
But those things will look like small potatoes if the Democratic presidential race is still undecided when Indiana stages primary elections on May 5.
“It would get some presidential candidates here for us in the spring, we hope,” said Edie Hardcastle, chair of Vanderburgh County’s Democratic organization. “We’ve already been thinking about that.”
Hardcastle said local Democrats would relish the chance to mobilize their political organizing and get-out-the-vote operations well in advance of the fall campaign. Trump has no major opposition for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
A competitive presidential primary could give local Democrats a reprise of 2008 when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton barnstormed the state in an unexpectedly pivotal contest punctuated by furious campaigning in Evansville. For weeks, Obama and Clinton took their battle into high school gymnasiums, union halls, stadiums and town squares, in communities unaccustomed to seeing presidential candidates in the flesh.
But Indiana’s contest falls relatively late in the presidential primary election calendar. No one knows whether one of the Democratic contenders will have sewn up the nomination by then. Maybe only two or three of them will remain standing in early May.
“It’s just so hard to know. There’s so many people still in the primary. It seems to be so up in the air,” Hardcastle said.
The local Democratic chair is publicly neutral in the presidential race. But Hardcastle said former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have significant support among local party activists.
Some of the local activists in both major parties may stand a good chance of becoming delegates to their parties’ national conventions this summer. The Democratic National Convention will be held July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Republican National Convention is set for Aug. 24-27 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Those high-profile events may be months away, but local and area activists are already planning for them.
Hardcastle attended a meeting in Sullivan County last month where she and other Democratic Party officers in the 19-county 8th congressional district went over the process for becoming a delegate to the national convention.
The 8th District will have six of Indiana’s 108 delegates, meaning Vanderburgh County Democrats who are interested in the positions will compete with others from 18 other counties. But Vanderburgh is the 8th District’s largest county, mitigating in the locals’ favor. Other positions will be available for local Democrats to claim, such as the 18 at-large delegate slots.
Democrats will choose their national convention delegates at the state party’s June 13 convention in Indianapolis.
Dubois County resident Don Hayes, chairman of the 8th District Republican Party, said the district will field three delegates and three alternates to the Republican National Convention. Indiana will field 28 at-large delegates, each with an alternate. Hayes said local Republicans can be selected for those spots as well.
The 8th District GOP will choose its national convention delegates not at the state party convention in June in Indianapolis, but at a May 9 caucus of county-level Republican leaders. Indiana’s at-large delegates will be selected at a state GOP committee meeting on May 20 in Indianapolis.
Both major parties also allow individuals who are willing to pay a fee to be “guests” at their national conventions. They don’t have delegate credentials that would allow them onto the convention floor, but there is every chance the lucky guest can persuade a delegate to lend him his floor credentials temporarily.
One potential obstacle: It can cost several thousand dollars to sit among the thousands of longtime party activists, donors, leaders and elected officials who typically get tapped to be delegates and guests at national political conventions.
Faced with paying for travel, lodging and food, some creative delegates have started Internet fundraising pages and GoFundMe campaigns and made other appeals for money from people.
Joanie Kanizer, a Vermillion County resident who chairs the 8th District Democrat Party, was a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Kanizer said the costs are manageable if delegates and guests are willing to share hotel rooms and make other economies.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a delegate or you’re a guest: It will be an experience that you will never forget,” Kanizer said.
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