ELKHART — After winning the Democratic nomination in the Tuesday primary for Elkhart mayor, Rod Roberson is moving his focus to defeating Republican Dave Miller in the Nov. 5 election.
“Now I pivot,” Roberson said Wednesday. “And when I say I pivot, I just make sure that I’m speaking to a broader audience about the same things.”
Roberson’s phone was constantly buzzing with congratulatory messages Wednesday afternoon. Asked what led to his victory, he said there’s never just one reason.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to process it all, but from what I can get from people, we ran a campaign that was a clean one, it was one that stayed at a high level. It wasn’t attacking Ashley’s positions as much as it was establishing my own,” he said.
A guiding principle for the Roberson campaign was ensuring that the issues he ran on were well-matched to his person and his experience. That principle came from a conversation with a young voter who determines who to vote for in that manner.
“I think it’s very real. It think it’s very understandable how you would want an authentic, you would want a genuine person,” Roberson said.
When Roberson announced his candidacy for mayor, he was the first one to do so, and he had hoped to run unopposed. But facing a strong opponent in the primary may have made him a stronger candidate for the fall, he said.
On election night, the final results came around 9 p.m., which was later than anticipated.
“I don’t know if I was ready for the sense of jubilation that occurred when those numbers were announced,” he said. “You could see the pictures of people hugging and crying about this election. That’s different. I was surprised to see where all that emotion came from.”
And that had an effect on how Roberson sees the rest of the campaign.
“It made me feel more accountable to their decision to back me. It just connected me more in that relationship,” he said.
The win came after a lot of hard work for Roberson and his volunteers, he said. After several debates within a couple of weeks in mid-April, people on the campaign felt that they were building momentum, but bad weather made it difficult to do as much canvassing and yard-sign distribution as had been planned.
Instead, Roberson said, the campaign turned its focus to making phone calls and doing more on social media, ensuring that the message got out in one way or another.
His campaign overcame being about 50 percent behind Boling Molyneaux in fundraising numbers for the first quarter. Yet, by April 12, the two campaigns had spent almost the same amount of money, which Boling Molyneaux attributed in part to wanting to keep some money for the general election campaign.
Roberson said that, having established himself in the community a long time ago and running in four at-large races for City Council meant that fundraising didn’t need to be as big a focus for him as for Boling Molyneaux.
“Because I’ve been in this community for so long, and because of the things that I do and the wide variety of things that I have done in the past, it’s not as expensive for me to communicate who I am, as it is for someone that’s new to this relationship,” Roberson said.
He now has to overcome an opponent who has a solid claim to knowing what being mayor is about. Dave Miller served as mayor of Elkhart from 2000 to 2007, which overlaps with Roberson’s first two terms as a member of City Council.
Asked what he would have done differently than Miller, had their roles at that time been switched, Roberson said that what he is running on now is what he would have done then.
A significant part of that is about improving the neighborhoods throughout Elkhart, which Roberson wants to do through what he calls “anchors” in the neighborhoods.
In one neighborhood, that might be the Tolson Center, which not only brings programming and a place for youths to go, but also helps improve property values when it is open, according to Roberson, who lives just a few blocks from the center that is expected to reopen in late summer or early fall.
To beat Miller on Nov. 5, Roberson will likely need to win over most of the Democrats who voted for Boling Molyneaux. He said he wants those voters to feel welcome, and his staff said they’re already hearing from people saying they will make that switch.
“I would hope that Ashley, as well as her supporters, would endorse my candidacy moving forward. And it’s not coming from a Democratic perspective,” he said. “It’s coming from a perspective that this will be a binary choice between Dave Miller and I.”
Local campaigns might slow down over the summer before resurfacing in the fall. But the Roberson campaign has a big charge ahead of it, as he has promised that his team will knock on the door of every Elkhart household this year.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus