October 7, 2008
CAROL MARIN email@example.com
HAMMOND, Ind. -- The economic view from Northwest Indiana isn't pretty.
And if Indiana goes to Barack Obama on Nov. 4, get ready for an Election Day avalanche.
Remember, Indiana is as ruby red as we in Illinois are baby blue.
The last Democrat our neighbors to the east helped send to the White House was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. If you were born that year, you are middle-aged.
On Tuesday morning, as the breakfast crowd was thinning and the lunch crowd arriving, the customers at Schoop's Diner in Portage had a litany of worries as they prepared to watch last night's debate between John McCain and Obama.
McCain, a member of the party a majority of voters here normally favor, vs. Obama, the candidate of the party most voters in this state have rejected for 44 years.
Joe Modesto, a 41-year-old electrician, and Mark Burch, a 39- year-old laborer, were just paying their bill. They are blue-collar union guys who told me one of the furnaces at a nearby steel mill had just been shut down. They're seeing layoffs. They're worried about their pensions.
John McCain, they say, is a veteran and war hero. They respect him. But they add, "Obama has good ideas too."
Burch is for Obama. Modesto is still not sure.
They are torn, wary.
Julie and Brad Sharp, behind the counter, are the 40-year-old-couple who own Schoop's. They are political junkies.
Back in August, Obama and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, then a contender for the vice presidential nomination, had a photo-op in their diner. Obama ordered cheeseburgers to go.
The Sharps are writing in Ron Paul on the November ballot. He's a Republican, yes. But not John McCain.
Meanwhile, Sandy and Scott Miller were finishing their eggs and English muffins. They are Democrats, a minority here, worried yet relieved their daughters finally managed, in their 40s, to get group health insurance at their places of employment.
Sandy Miller, a Hillary Clinton supporter and small business owner, is now on board for Obama. "This isn't an easy state for Democrats," she said. But the economy and the war in Iraq are making it easier.
George W. Bush won this state decisively in 2000 and 2004 with double digits each time. But today, the distance between Obama and McCain is a mere 5 points.
Just a stone's throw away, in Hammond's City Hall, is Mayor Tom McDermott, a Democrat and early Clinton supporter who now is an Obama man.
McDermott knows Republicans in the state are worried. Three lawsuits, two in circuit court, one in federal court, are challenging early voting in the very precincts that are likely to go Democratic. Those precincts are where a preponderance of African-American and Hispanic voters live. While voters in mostly white Crown Point were able to begin early voting Tuesday, citizens in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago were still battling to do the same.
There is an unexpectedly tight fight for this Midwest battleground. And if there's a surprise state to watch, this is one.
Rural Indiana, white and Republican, is as economically challenged as racially diverse, urban, Democratic areas.
They are all hurting.
The war matters here. It matters deeply. Indiana's sons and daughters are fighting in our expensive, protracted Iraq battle. But when they come home -- we pray they come home, and in one piece -- they need jobs and homes they can afford to buy.
Indiana is in play in a way it hasn't been in decades.
Obama left last night's debate in Tennessee and will arrive in Indianapolis today.
The Republicans may have the advantage, but it will take more work than ever before to keep it.