Clinton, looking to put Sanders away, fighting hard in Kentucky
PADUCAH, Kentucky (CNN) — Hillary Clinton, looking to stem a string of late-in-the-calendar wins by rival Bernie Sanders, is investing heavily in Kentucky ahead of its Tuesday primary.
The former secretary of state’s campaign has launched both television and radio ads in the state’s major markets and dispatched more than a dozen surrogates to turn out voters in the days before the primary. Clinton has also personally invested time: She will have headlined 11 campaign stops over three trips in the last two weeks by the time Kentucky Democrats go to the polls.
“It is a great honor to be here with you and I hope to earn your support in the primary on Tuesday,” Clinton said at St. Stephens Baptist Church in Southwest Louisville on Sunday. “I hope to have the opportunity to serve you as your president.”
This investment marks a notable change from her efforts ahead of a narrow-loss in Indiana’s primary two weeks ago, where Clinton spent little time campaigning and was outspent $2 million to $0 in advertising.
After the loss some aides suggested with a little investment the former secretary of state could have won the primary and come closer to putting away Sanders, the Vermont senator who has pledged to campaign into June. Clinton and her aides don’t want to make that mistake again, especially given they already anticipate a loss in Oregon, the other state voting Tuesday.
Clinton visited Paducah, Kentucky, on Monday, stopping in at the Little Castle diner. The meeting was meant to be an off-the-record stop, but excited local Democrats told reporters and the place was filled when Clinton walked in.
“Everybody’s ready to go vote,” Clinton said. “I’ll tell you this: I’m not going to give up on Kentucky in November.”
Clinton is currently fighting a two-front campaign against both Sanders and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, a fact that is using campaign’s resources that could be needed during the general election.
“Right now, Hillary is the only candidate waging two campaigns, which means we need twice as many resources as Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump,” Dennis Cheng, Clinton’s national finance director, wrote in a fundraising email last week.
But Trump supporters abound in Kentucky, including at Clinton events. As she spoke outside a home in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, on Sunday afternoon, the event was periodically interrupted by a man yelling “Vote Trump” from across the street.
And at the Lone Oak diner, Dooley, a Trump supporter, scrawled “TRUMP” on the back of her bill and held it up as Clinton walked by.
As Clinton walked up, she saw Dooley small Trump sign and said hello. Dooley shook her hand and responded: “I will not vote for you, I will never vote for you,” Dooley said.
Clinton, calmly, responded, “That’s OK. You vote for whoever you want.”
Clinton, according to aides, feels better about Kentucky than she did about Indiana, a feeling that is reflected in the amount of time she is spending in the state. While Clinton personally wanted to compete in Indiana — which is why she returned for a late scheduled rally in Indianapolis — she saw the state as a likely loss, aides said.
That isn’t the case in Kentucky. By going on air, deploying surrogates and spending time in the state, the Clinton campaign is telegraphing that they think there is a better chance to win the Bluegrass State.
While Clinton has been more focused on Trump recently, she has not forgotten about Sanders on the stump.
“I will tell you what, there is a big difference in this primary campaign between my opponent Bernie Sanders. I voted to bailout the auto industry, he voted against it,” Clinton said, repeating a somewhat discredited attack line that the former secretary of state rolled out during the Michigan and Indiana primaries. “I guess, if you were to evaluate our position, I think I came out on the better side of that.”
Michael Briggs, Sanders’ spokesman, blasted the attack line, telling reporters that it is “absolutely untrue to say that Sen. Sanders voted against helping the automobile industry and auto workers.”
Both Clinton and Sanders, while in the Senate, voted for the first round of funding of the 2008 auto bailout. Sanders, however, voted against the second round of funding.
Voters in Indiana have also approached Clinton about Sanders. While she campaigned in Paducah, a member of the Western Kentucky Young Democrats handed Clinton a Sanders button and said, while he first backed the Vermont senator, he was now going to vote for her on Tuesday.
Clinton then signed the button, underlining her name and — in part — striking out “Sanders.”
One reason for the Clinton campaign’s stepped up confidence in Kentucky is that the primary is closed, meaning only registered Democrats can participate. Sanders has performed better than Clinton in open primaries, benefiting from independents and people who have not been part of the political process.