By Mark Mellman - 12/09/08 06:37 PM EST
While some have spent the last four years asking, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” the more interesting question, in the aftermath of this election, is what the heck happened in Indiana? Only once in the 17 previous presidential elections did a Democrat carry Indiana, and that was in the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964. In 2000, George W. Bush captured 57 percent of the state’s vote, a figure that inched up to 60 percent in 2004.
If Barack Obama had increased the Democratic margin in Indiana by the same nine points he did nationally, John McCain would have still won the state in a landslide. In fact, the margin in Indiana shifted by an astounding 22 points — second only to the movement in Obama’s birth state of Hawaii. It was a narrow win — about 30,000 votes separated the two candidates — but the magnitude of the shift is striking.
Some locate the cause in the state’s proximity to Obama’s more recent home in Chicago, as about 20 percent of the state’s voters reside in Chicago’s media market. The president-elect did win five of the counties abutting Chicagoland, compared to just two that went for John Kerry in 2004. That is far from the whole story, however.
Kerry won only two Indiana counties outside the Chicago media market; Obama emerged victorious in 10.
Others shine the spotlight on Indiana’s declining manufacturing sector. Ninety-one percent of state voters had a negative view of the national economy, a far cry from the 47 percent who were positive about the state’s economy four years ago. However, perceptions of the economy weren’t that much worse than in neighboring Kentucky, where 89 percent were negative, but where McCain won by a whopping 17-point margin.
Partisanship doesn’t explain the results, either. Kentuckians were more likely to call themselves Democrats and less likely to identify as Republicans than were Hoosiers. And Indiana’s Republican governor turned in a much stronger performance than did Kentucky’s GOP senator — Gov. Mitch Daniels won by 18, Sen. Mitch McConnell by six. Nor can Indiana’s minority or youth vote be the sole cause — Indiana is whiter than Kentucky, and the size of the under-30 vote almost exactly the same in the two states.
So what the heck did happen in Indiana? Turnout was a big part of the story. While national turnout did not increase very much, it jumped substantially in Indiana — and almost all of the increase came among people voting for Barack Obama. McCain got only about 130,000 fewer votes than George Bush did in 2004, and 100,000 more than Bush garnered in 2000.
The big difference was on the Democratic side. Obama got 400,000 more votes than Kerry and almost half a million more than Al Gore in 2000.
That wasn’t the case throughout the country. Obama won neighboring Ohio, for example, with almost the same number of votes that Kerry received in losing the Buckeye State.
But the Obama campaign sensed an opportunity in Indiana, and pressed it hard, helping to create the turnout that won the state. Obama visited Indiana 49 times, 40 of them during his primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). That is about 49 more visits than Kerry made, and more importantly, 46 more than John McCain could muster. In the week of Oct. 21 alone, Obama outspent McCain on television by almost 4 to 1.
Hoosiers felt the impact of the Obama organization personally. Almost four in 10 voters reported having been contacted by the Obama forces, compared to just 22 percent who were touched by McCain. Obama won the voters he reached out to by a 26-point margin, while McCain won his contacts by 29 points. Those contacted by neither campaign went to McCain. The winning margin in Indiana was in the far greater number of Obama contacts.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.