Indiana: Clinton's next big test
Obama and Clinton are in a tight race heading into the May 6 contest.
South Bend and Terre Haute, Ind.
In Indiana – a state that hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide – Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are logging dizzying itineraries as they attempt to convince Hoosiers that they have the solutions to the problems on everyone's minds: gasoline prices and jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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The latest controversy with Senator Obama's former pastor registered among some voters, and issues of race and class are an important backdrop, but mostly, this is a pocketbook election, say analysts.
"We've been hit very hard here in Indiana in terms of manufacturing jobs and traditional blue-collar jobs," says Tom New, a Democratic strategist in the state. He notes that while Indiana shares many economic problems with other Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, it may turn out to be a more even match between Senator Clinton and Obama. "There's a lot of economic unrest in Indiana, and I think that plays to Senator Clinton's advantage, but I do think people are hungry for change, and that's been Obama's theme."
So far, most polls have given Clinton a slight edge, though a few recent ones have the two Democrats in a virtual tie.
Both candidates have been stressing middle-class concerns, including outsourced jobs, soaring prices at the pump, home foreclosures, and college debt. Clinton, however, has focused more on specific, detailed proposals, while Obama emphasizes bigger-picture concerns and long-term fixes.
That may be one reason, say experts, Clinton's message seems to resonate more with working-class voters.
"He needs to make a more compelling case to blue-collar workers of what he can do for them," says Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "He gives a good speech about hope and idealism, but they want to know what he's going to do in terms of bread and butter issues that will help them."
In Indiana, where about one-third of the voters come from small towns and rural areas, Obama sometimes struggles against a perception of elitism from voters unmoved by his soaring rhetoric. "I couldn't warm up to Obama. I felt like he was talking over my head instead of to me," says Shirley Goodman, a loan officer from Terre Haute, at a Clinton rally. "She can reach the average person better than he can."
"She's willing to go the extra yard to stop jobs from going overseas," agrees Debbie Phelps, an educational assistant in Terre Haute, noting that her husband was laid off from his tool-and-dye job of 23 years when the company went to another country, and then laid off again when Pfizer left town. He gets half the pay at his current job. "At our age, it's like starting all over," she says.
Obama has been working to combat that perception of elitism and has also sought to counter Clinton's argument that he can't connect with the white working-class voters who will be crucial in November. Last week he moved away from his famous huge rallies and big speeches, in favor of smaller, invitation-only events where he tried a conversational approach.
"I want to spend more time listening than talking," he told about 75 farmers and rural families at an event at the Dairy Beef Club at South Bend's fairgrounds, where he emphasized his own Midwestern roots.