Saturday before the election, 22-year-old campaign manager Jon Sutton has driven an hour to Linton headquarters instead of staying in his Bloomington office in the Monroe County Democrats building.
The Linton headquarters are actually the town multi-purpose room. The owner lets people reserve it for anything from city council meetings to an art studio.
Sparks’ campaign reserved it for the last four days of the campaign, but photographs and music stands from other visitors still clutter the room.
A “Jeff Sparks for State Representative” sign leans on the front window next to an oil painting of the sun setting.
They have a 3-point lead with early voters, according to Democrats’ prediction models. Sutton says it like he’s reciting a good luck charm.
He had a job offer in Minnesota that paid twice as much, he said, but he elected to stay in-state.
“You don’t take a job in Indiana as a young idealistic Democrat except to say we can work hard and change some things in this state,” Sutton says, leaning back in his chair, sock feet propped on another chair. “We’re not going to take your majority, but we’re gonna kick a couple of your guys in the teeth.”
Not all the educators running for office have Sparks’ chances this election, Sutton says. He names a couple local races, then closes his eyes and shakes his head, symbolically shutting them down.
“Sometimes it’s just too hard to change the ideological slant of a district.”
On Election Day, it turns out Sutton was right about two of the three races he predicted. Brodhacker and Mann each lost with less than 40 percent of the vote.
He didn’t see his own campaign as clearly.
Jeff Sparks lost the race for District 62 with only 41 percent of the vote.
At Linton headquarters, at 9:30 p.m. on Election Night, a stoic Sparks hangs up his phone to break the news to his supporters.
“By more than I lost last time.”
He shoves his hands into his pockets, his face tired but blank.
Chatter erupts again, Sparks’ supporters speculating on what happened and offering condolences.
Sparks leans over a volunteer to pick up an empty water bottle. Still cleaning up.
Outside, it’s no longer raining.
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.
A month later, Jeff Sparks is visibly more relaxed. He leans back in a diner booth at The Grill on Linton’s main street, wearing a well-loved black Purdue sweatshirt.
Saturday before the election, 22-year-old The Linton headquarters are actually the town multi-purpose room.
Friday before the election, Sparks is at the junior high. He’s about worn out, he says.