INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Before Barack Obama experienced a rough couple of weeks, his campaign was optimistic about his chances in this state.
But with a black population of less than ten percent and swaths of blue collar towns and rural counties, Indiana is looking far more favorable to Hillary Clinton, who has blanketed the state with visits from her, former President Bill Clinton and their daughter Chelsea.
Can she achieve a replay of Ohio and Pennsylvania, when the rural counties turned in huge margins for her? Or will Obama, with significant endorsements in southern Indiana, be able to cut into her support? And will Obama succeed in driving up his totals in Indianapolis and the northwestern corner of the state?
Here is what Indiana political strategists and experts will be looking for Tuesday:
Check the polls. “The mantra is that 10-2-4 routine,” said Brian Howey, editor of Howey Politics Indiana, referring to 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. checks to gauge turnout.
Follow the turnout. Analysts are expecting far bigger turnout this year than in 2004, when about 22 percent of voters cast ballots in the presidential primary, said Russell Hanson, a political science professor at Indiana University-Bloomington.
A much bigger turnout is good news for Obama because it means “those who haven’t been politically engaged in the past are coming out,” Hanson said. “If that is not happening, then that is working in Clinton’s favor because the traditional [party] machinery is working.”
The new vote and the early vote. Analysts will be watching the preferences of the more than 200,000 new voters who were added to the registration rolls.
“How many are Obamacans versus Rush Limbaugh mischief makers?” Howey asked.
More than 160,000 voters cast their ballots early, with large numbers coming in from Obama strongholds in Lake (Gary), Marion (Indianapolis) and Monroe (Indiana University-Bloomington) counties.
The Obama campaign tried taking full advantage of this option at Purdue and Indiana University, where classes concluded last week, by shuttling students to the county election site. “The traffic was so heavy that the county clerk agreed they would bring the polling place to the center of campus for two days,” Hanson said.
Hoosier math. Obama needs to pile up large margins in Indianapolis in the middle of the state and in Gary’s Lake County in the northwest corner, which is part of the Chicago media market.
Both areas boast significant African American populations. Gary, a city of 100,000 residents, is 84 percent black. Indianapolis, population 780,000, is 25 percent black.
A good night for Obama would mean 10- to 20-point margins in both areas, analysts said.
Obama will also need 20-point margins in college towns such as Bloomington and West Lafayette, analysts said.
Clinton must rely on the Ohio River towns in southern Indiana along the Kentucky border. Obama drew 8,000 people to rally in Evansville, and picked up key endorsements in this area, such as Congressman Baron Hill and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a revered figure. But Clinton is nevertheless favored to win the region by double digits. She spent the final hours of the campaign Monday in New Albany, a city of 37,000 with 7 percent black population, and Evansville, a city of 117,000 that is 11 percent black.
Clinton also hopes to pad her lead in east central Indiana. Economically-distressed cities with union influence, such as Anderson, Muncie and Richmond, present favorable terrain for Clinton, but they also have African American populations of between eight and 15 percent, Howey said.
Places to watch. Kokomo’s Howard County is the bellwether to watch, Howey said. It is urban and rural, with a mix of African Americans and blue collar workers, some employed in the Chrysler plants. According to Howey, it tends to back the winner in gubernatorial, congressional an state legislative races.
The South Bend area drew significant focus from both campaigns. It is home to the University of Notre Dame, which bodes well for Obama, but there are also many Catholics and a “strong tradition of blue collar Reagan Democratic voters” that would favor Clinton, said Hanson.
The wealthy Republican suburbs north of Indianapolis also received attention from the campaigns, suggesting that both candidates are looking for crossover votes, Howey said. A poll conducted for the Howey Politics Indiana found that up to 20 percent of Tuesday’s turnout could be non-Democrats.
Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.