Indiana Primary Still Up In The Air

This story was written by Chris Herring, Michigan Daily

MUNSTER, Ind. - There's a reason that just days before the Indiana Democratic primary no one is really sure what to make of the race yet.

On one hand, the state's demographics appear to favor Sen. Hillary Clinton because they are similar to that of a pair of states she won - Pennsylvania and Ohio - which have large working-class populations and where the percentage of white residents nears 90 percent.

On the other, Barack Obama, as an Illinois senator, has the advantage of being from the state next door - a boost that has helped him in other primary contests.

This conundrum has both Clinton and Obama's campaigns shying away from predicting victory in the Hoosier State. Instead, supporters on each side have mentioned the other candidate's advantage here, trying to downplay expectations heading into what could be a pivotal race.

As in previous contests, the Clinton campaign hopes to win over the state's blue-collar voters, of which Indiana has plenty. In a four-day span from April 30 to May 3, former president Bill Clinton visited 14 small Indiana towns campaigning for his wife.

Similarly, the New York senator's surrogates have been crisscrossing the state's less-populated regions. As for Clinton herself, she hadn't held any public campaign events in Indianapolis - the state's capital and largest city - until Saturday night, instead focusing on smaller areas throughout Indiana.

Conversely, the Obama campaign is making the most of its advantage here: Obama's Chicago roots.

In a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Indianapolis Star, Obama said he expected to perform better in Indiana among working-class voters than he did in Ohio and Pennsylvania because Hoosier voters know more about him.

"I think voters in Indiana are more familiar with my record," he said. "As someone who's relatively new on the national scene, people who are more familiar with my record are more likely to be comfortable with voting for me."

Obama has won each of the states that borders Illinois - Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin - by polling much better in those places among white working-class voters.

Still, Obama has spent close to $6 million on TV and radio advertisements here, many of which have been bought in northwest Indiana, an extension of the Chicago suburbs. About 20 percent of the Indiana residents live in that part of the state, which is part of the Chicago media market.

Additionally, the Illinois senator has made numerous stops throughout the northwest Indiana region. On Friday, Obama held a town hall meeting in Munster, which is less than 10 minutes away from the Illinois border.

"This is practically home for me," Obama said, speaking with a group of steel workers at the closed-door meeting. "I feel like hopping on the (Chicago) Skyway to go home right now, but they tell me I've got an election coming up and that I need to campaign instead."

Though the candidate was joking, David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Obama's campaign, said there is a definite sense of urgency to do well in Indiana.

"We are not taking anything for granted here in Indiana," he said in an interview. "That's why we're here (campaigning in Munster). It's going to be a very competitive battleground come Tuesday."

The competition on the eastern side of the state, an area where Obama would likely be less well-known, will be watched closely.

Nathan Ashworth, chapter coordinator of Students for Obama at Ball State University, said that unlike in the western part of the state, voters in east-central Indiana where his school is located are still a bit unfamiliar with both candidates.

"We have a large majority of working-class voters who don't necessarily have time out of their day to read up on Obama and Clinton's positions," said Ashworth, an Indianapolis native. "I think both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have their work cut out for them in this part of the state."