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How Obama Turned Indiana Blue

Behind the biggest stunner of the election.

by
Ari J. Kaufman

Bio

November 7, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Celebratory gunfire rang through neighborhoods in Indianapolis Tuesday night, as supporters of President-elect Barack Obama were elated over the election of their candidate to our nation’s highest office. Hours later, deep into the morning, while wild parties continued throughout America, the Hoosier State of Indiana was colored blue for the first time since the onset of the Vietnam War.

Perhaps in no other American state did the erstwhile junior senator from Illinois record a more historic win than Indiana on November 4. With due respect to Virginia and North Carolina’s southern history, and the other six red states Obama flipped his way, no state more decisively voted for President Bush in 2004 (60-39), then turned around to support the Democratic presidential nominee four short years later.

It’s now well known that, like the Commonwealth of Virginia, Indiana had not voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide. And as in Virginia, the race in Indiana was close all night. In the end, however, more than any other singular issue, the economy aided Obama’s triumph here. His racial background, especially in predominantly African-American Lake County, where the late returns erased a McCain advantage most of the evening, also boosted Obama, as it did throughout the country.

While the national media was surprised, many Hoosier experts were not.

Paul Ogden, a local professor who edits a right-leaning blog, even predicted as much five days prior to the voting. Abdul Shabazz, a local talk radio host and a McCain supporter, also saw an Obama win in the making, though he did believe McCain would prevail in Indiana.

Although following the 2006 midterms, when Democrats gained a congressional majority, I mused that this state was moving blue, I still believed Indiana would stay red in November 2008. I counted on Obama benefiting from a large turnout in the black community, as well as left-leaning places like Bloomington and downtown Indianapolis. But for Obama to win 11 counties that went largely for Bush in 2004? The economic woes must have spoken to people in the booths.

Barack H. Obama carried 15 Hoosier counties to John Kerry’s paltry four in 2004. Northwestern Indiana counties, with those cherished “Reagan Democrats,” propelled Obama as much as any demographic. These blue-collar industrial workers have been hit hard by the economy in areas like South Bend, Portage, Anderson, and south along the Wabash and Ohio Rivers in Terre Haute and Evansville. To vote for America’s most liberal senator, they must have been angry, as these folks are overwhelmingly socially conservative, Second Amendment proponents, and churchgoers, predominantly Catholic.

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