Indiana Shapes Up as a State of Parity for Democrats

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Something unusual appears to be developing in the Democratic presidential race in this state: a fair fight.

Wedged between Illinois, which is Sen. Barack Obama's home state, and Ohio, which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dominated on March 4, Indiana may be the one state remaining on the primary calendar where both candidates begin with a roughly equal chance of coming out ahead.

That fact alone makes it stand out from states such as Pennsylvania, where the playing field for the April 22 contest offers big advantages to Clinton (N.Y.), or the Oregon race a month later, which clearly tilts toward Obama.

In Indiana, Obama has a home-field advantage, while Clinton has the backing of the popular Sen. Evan Bayh and may have an edge on the kind of economic issues that are likely to dominate the discussion before the state's Democrats vote on May 6.

"If I had to pick -- and I'm not usually shy about saying who's going to win -- I couldn't tell you today," said Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who represents Indiana's 2nd District and has not committed to either candidate. Others entrenched in Indiana politics put Clinton ahead, if only slightly.

The state's Democrats have reacted to their sudden relevance with enthusiasm -- thousands waited in the cold to see Clinton at several stops last week -- and the campaigns have responded by pouring resources into the state. Obama arrived here first, making an appearance March 15 in Plainfield, and the Clinton campaign is launching an attempt to limit his following on campuses with its own blitz on the numerous colleges and universities around the state. On Monday, Chelsea Clinton is set to help kick off the effort, appearing with her father, former president Bill Clinton, in South Bend before traveling to Bloomington.

Obama's bases of operation are likely to revolve around the Hoosier State's three major universities -- Notre Dame in the north and Indiana University and Purdue University farther south -- and build out into their respective host cities of South Bend, Bloomington and West Lafayette. The African American populations that spill over from Chicago are expected to favor Obama, as is Indianapolis, the state's largest city.

Former congressman and 9/11 Commission member Timothy J. Roemer is among a long list of Democrats slated to begin working the state aggressively for Obama.

While both campaigns grudgingly admit that the race here is competitive, each is seeking to portray the other as starting with a lead in pursuit of Indiana's 72 pledged delegates.

"We think he has some advantages starting out," Bayh said, referring to Obama, in an interview after spending the day traveling around the state with Clinton. "Twenty percent of Indiana households watch Chicago TV. The city of East Chicago is actually in Indiana."

As a result, Bayh said, a big swath of Indiana is already very familiar with Obama's message and the messenger himself.

But demographics and some of the state's similarities to Ohio, where Clinton won big on March 4, suggest that the senator from New York has a leg up. In southern Indiana, factory towns and areas around Evansville look like prime targets for her economic message aimed at blue-collar voters. Her allies also see strong potential for her in the Indianapolis suburbs.

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