Democrat Barack Obama pulled off a stunning win in Indiana last night, defeating Republican John McCain in a state that gave President Bush margins of victory of 20 percentage points in 2004 and 15 points in 2000. Obama won the state with 49.9 percent of the vote to McCain's 49 percent.
Obama's last-minute visit to Indianapolis Election Day suggested that he knew something big was happening in this usually reliably Republican presidential state. And he made it happen, dominating in Lake County, near his hometown of Chicago, and winning Marion County and, with it, Indianapolis by huge margins. It was enough to offset votes from the overwhelmingly conservative areas in southern Indiana.
How did this happen in a state that has voted for the GOP presidential candidate in 16 of the past 17 contests? J. Ann Selzer, whose poll last week for the Indianapolis Star newspaper showed Obama with a lead of 1 percentage point, says it came down to a big African-American turnout at the polls and the economy.
"When you think about what states have been hardest hit by the economy, Michigan is first and then Indiana and Ohio," Selzer says. "Indiana was in its own little recession already," before the rest of the country was hit. Voters were ready, she says, for a message promising a new way to think about the economy, something different from the past eight years.
McCain had consistently led in state polls since August, though by what political observers found surprisingly small margins. By mid-October, when the full effect of the economic crisis was being felt nationally, Obama and McCain began trading the lead. Obama, who has more than 30 offices in the state (McCain has none), visited Indiana at least a half-dozen times and also dispatched his running mate, Joe Biden, and his wife, Michelle, to meet with Hoosiers.
Despite Indiana's red reputation, five members of its congressional delegation are Democrats, and two are Republican. And more than 500,000 new voters have registered there this year.
Additionally, Selzer says, the metro Indianapolis area is growing and becoming "much more cosmopolitan." Her polling found that there are a good number of crossover voters in the state—those who would cast a ballot for GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, who also won last night, but then vote for Obama.
In the end, Obama benefited from being seen as the strongest candidate on the economy. And, with Wall Street in crisis under a GOP administration, McCain was unable to run on his experience.