Can Obama win Indiana?

They don’t vote for Democratic presidential candidates very often in this state. The last time was 1964 and Lyndon Johnson had managed to scare the stuffing out of the electorate with allegations that if they voted for Republican Barry Goldwater the result would be an extended war in Southeast Asia, and rioting in the streets at home.

So a majority of Hoosiers along with most of the rest of the nation voted for Johnson and those who voted for Goldwater sure enough found out those predictions were accurate. There was an expanded war in Vietnam and rioting in the streets. It has taken a long time for most voters here (in a state often referred to as Northern Alabama because of the southern antecedents of its citizens) to get over that sad experience, but it appears they finally may have. The predictions are that Democrat Barack Obama from neighboring Illinois will carry this battleground state over Goldwater’s Senate successor, Republican John McCain of Arizona.

Those who measure these things, however, put one caveat, on their predictions-whether or not Indiana’s infamous reputation for racial intolerance has finally run its course enough to elect an African American for president. The race impact is an unknown factor throughout the nation, but here it is an unfair concern magnified by those days more than 80 years ago when an Indianapolis racist con man corrupted the state’s political machinery and made a small fortune off selling bed sheets in the name of the Ku Klux Klan before being convicted of murder.

Most of those who have roots here, and I am one, believe that stain on the state was expunged long ago and that most Hoosier voters will not let race enter into their decisions. And at the moment a majority of those votes would be for Obama.

An indication of Obama’s gains here can be seen in the increasingly strident, frantic attacks launched by Republican candidates who have tried to portray him as one who uses "change" as a euphemism for evil intent. A former congressman seeking to recapture the office accused him recently of being a tyrant and a communist whose election would lead to revolution. A local GOP office holder disputed that charging that he isn’t actually a communist but he is, in fact, a "fascist." Both comments prompted a strongly worded reprimand and an appeal for civility from the local newspaper’s editorial page, revealing a growing lack of tolerance for that sort of personal attack campaigning.

The climate here is no different than in most areas of the nation hard hit by the economic crisis. A perusal of one real estate section found more than 50 homes up for bankruptcy sale in a community of only several thousand and polite conversation reflects a discouragement that can’t be good for John McCain. The fact that all this financial dislocation has taken place under a Republican administration is not lost on even those among the party’s most loyal supporters. A prominent attorney said he had never voted for a Democrat but that he was now going to do so because his party had let him down.

On the other hand another attending a meeting here said he had not made up his mind, but added it would be difficult to vote for someone whose lack of experience is as "monumental as any I’ve seen in a presidential candidate." That, of course, would be Obama.

The next four weeks here are crucial for McCain and Obama. If the world stock markets rebound on the heels of a new rescue plan, McCain probably would have a chance here. But that’s a large if. In Columbus, for instance, the welfare of many voters is tied to Cummins, a highly profitable international manufacturer of engines, whose stock like that of other solid companies has been caught in the avalanche. What happens in the market these days is much on their minds and that can’t be terribly good for the Republicans.





(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)