Could Indiana Become a Blue State?
PJM Indianapolis: After moving from Southern California to Indiana, Ari Kaufman was surprised to learn that some parts of America's heartland aren't all that different from liberal Los Angeles. Is the Hoosier State still a GOP stronghold?
September 29, 2007 - 1:00 am
When explaining why I relocated from Los Angeles to Indianapolis roughly 18 months ago, I’d be lying if I did not admit that a major factor was the socio-political outlooks of the two locales. However, my capricious choice to live in the Hoosier State’s largest city, in a trendy apartment building in downtown’s theatre district, left me with neighbors very similar to those I left in Southern California. And this was the heartland?
About a year and a half later, the 2006 midterm elections saw three “red” congressional seats go blue in Indiana, despite President Bush making a late visit to one of the hotly-contested districts in the southern part of the state.
And though the three Democrats were clearly of the moderate, “Blue Dog” style, thus having little say in Madame Pelosi’s House, folks in my building rejoiced when the results were tallied, as did the newspapers, the local networks, and of course, the ubiquitous “social justice” rag. This was not the Indiana I had anticipated.
The state is now basically split congressionally, with my small municipal area controlled by a far left member of the Black Congressional Caucus. Meanwhile, the local reform synagogue I originally attended is run by a cantankerous rabbi who fears Evangelical Zionists more than radical Islamists, lauds the Union for Reform Judaism’s regressive policies at every turn, and invited ACLU members, Eleanor Clift and writers from the socialist newspaper, The Forward, to recap the midterms over last holiday season. This needed further investigation, it seemed.
After driving around the smaller towns in the state, attending an Israel Bonds dinner, and interacting with folks who have military backgrounds (in a city that has the American Legion’s National Office and more acreage and war memorials than any city except for the District of Columbia), I was assured that outside of the half-dozen Indiana cities of more than six figure populations, we’re still a right-leaning place.
“Indiana’s electoral votes haven’t gone to a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and there is no reason to think they will in 2008,” Indiana Republican Party Executive Director Kevin Ober told me.
“We will have a strong Republican nominee running against either a polarizing or inexperienced nominee from the Democrats. Hoosier voters will be put off by the extreme rhetoric of the Democrats, and Indiana will remain firmly in the Republican column.”
Conversations with these Hoosier voters during my travels –beginning just 15 or so miles outside of the capital city– back Ober’s statement up. But will it stand come Election Day? Will those “salt of the earth” types who own businesses and restaurants or who work the thousands of farms and coal mines vote for Barack Obama or Hillary? Or will those who work at the dozens of military Armories or the 207 VFW Posts in a state of just over six million residents step out en masse and keep the Hoosier State red?
“I would say that’s a near-certainty. The state hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since 1964–and before that, the state had voted for the GOP candidate all the way back to 1936,” says Alan Dowd, Senior Fellow at the Indianapolis-based Sagamore Institute for Policy Research.
The consensus even among the seemingly growing left (made up of collegians, lawyers, doctors, and artisans) is that Indiana will remain a GOP stronghold due to the three Gs: Guns, God and Gays. Indeed many of my co-workers tell me their families, due to military ties, the church, or their opposition to abortion and gay marriage will always fill in the bubble next to the “R” candidate each time.
This would stand to reason. As the Indiana GOP Chair noted, the Democrats may be able to get away with liberal candidates in coastal states, but Indiana is neither Vermont nor Oregon, and it’s not even Illinois—which went strongly for Kerry and might have “local” folks vote for Obama, who won his Senate seat 70-27 over Alan Keyes in 2004.
Still, while those in the know are confident, they’re also chary.
Dan Burton, congressman from the reliably Republican 5th district just north of Indy, states: “I am confident that Indiana will remain a Red State in the upcoming elections, but we aren’t taking any chances. Governor Daniels and all of our Republican candidates, me included, are working very hard to win in 2008.”
And even Dowd showed caution, when he noted: “I don’t think it will affect the presidential results in the state, but the state is certainly trending blue on the congressional side. We have gone from two GOP senators and 6 or 7 GOP representatives to 1 GOP senator and 4 GOP representatives.”
But Dowd’s bottom line is “I suppose Sen. Evan Bayh being on the ticket as a VP candidate could impact this, but if I were handicapping 2008, I would put Indiana in the GOP’s column.”
Three of the four lndiana Democratic politicians I contacted for this piece did not return e-mails or phone calls. I did get a cursory response from the Press Secretary for Congressman Brad Ellsworth of Indiana’s 8th District; however, she declined to comment after probing me for more information on the “scope” of my article.
Her exact words were, “Congressman Ellsworth is focused on representing his constituents, the people of the 8th District. Not on politics.”
End of conversation.
Distancing themselves from the media is perhaps telling though, considering at least one Indiana Democrat congressman received major financial support from moveon.org. As the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby recently noted, the left is rather reticent to distance themselves from the anti-military fringe of America when campaign funding is at stake.
It’s doubtful the folks in Indiana, many of whom are veterans, will put up with that kind of nonsense, though. Surely a small percentage –like those who live near me and scoff at the 4th of July celebrations I enjoy in the War Memorial Plaza replete with country music and army displays from the American Legion–side with the left, but most will not tolerate such rhetoric.
Therefore, while Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois make the Upper Midwest look like a map of the Northwest, Indiana is not likely to even become the Ohio of 2008. Look for the Hoosier State to again be colored red quickly on Election Night.
Ari Kaufman currently resides in Indianapolis where he is a military historian for the State of Indiana’s War Memorials and an Associate Fellow at the Sagamore Institute. A former Los Angeles schoolteacher, he is the author of %%AMAZON=0595445306 Reclamation: Saving our schools starts from within%%.