Presidential primary cast world political spotlight on Indiana
For two weeks this spring, Indiana felt like the center of the political universe.
Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton criss-crossed the state in the run-up to the May 6 Indiana primary. News media from around the nation -- and the world -- studied Hoosier politics and turned to IU political scientists for analysis.
It was the most significant Indiana primary since 1968, when Robert Kennedy won the state's Democratic contest a month before his presidential bid was cut short by assassination. And history may record that Indiana was where Obama clinched his party's nomination, even though Clinton won the state by a small margin.
"The outcome of the primary was not as dramatic as in 1968 but was powerful nonetheless," said Marjorie Hershey, professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington. "Clinton's smaller-than-expected win put the brakes on the momentum she had created in March and April and undercut her claim that she was clearly the more electable Democratic candidate in big states."
Edward Carmines, the Warner O. Chapman professor and Rudy professor of political science at IU Bloomington, agreed that Indiana played a key role in setting up the fall contest between Obama and Republican John McCain.
"Indiana was pivotal, I think, in settling this," Carmines said. "Clinton won but she won by such a narrow margin."
Meanwhile, Hoosiers -- including the IU community -- saw more of the Democratic candidates than they've seen of any presidential contenders in years. Obama spoke to about 13,000 people at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Hillary Clinton spoke at the same venue, and so did former President Bill Clinton. Their daughter Chelsea Clinton met with students at the IU Auditorium. Musician Dave Matthews played a free concert for Obama supporters at Assembly Hall.
Other campuses shared the spotlight. Obama spoke at IU Southeast, and so did former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, representing Clinton. Chelsea Clinton spoke twice at IUPUI and once each at IU Southeast and IU-Purdue University Fort Wayne. IU Kokomo freshman Kory McKay won a chance to play 3-on-3 basketball with Obama.
"I think a lot of people in Indiana got a lot of satisfaction out of the primary being as important as it was," Carmines said.
In recent presidential elections, the late date for Indiana's primary kept it from being a factor in choosing the nominee. And Indiana has been so reliably Republican -- Lyndon Johnson in 1964 was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state -- that it has typically been ignored in the fall.
"It was with amazement and (by and large) delight that people in Salem, Plymouth and Kendallville were able to see Barack Obama and Hillary (and Bill and Chelsea) Clinton up close and personal, just as people in Iowa and New Hampshire are accustomed to doing," Hershey said.
Reporters and editors are used to thinking of Indiana as a flyover state with farms, but they learned something about the state's geographical, economic and demographic diversity. And Hoosier voters, especially young people and students, became deeply involved with the candidates.
"I think there was more political interest than at any time in the 30-plus years I've been in Indiana," said Carmines, who has taught an IU elections course during the past eight presidential campaigns. "The students were very engaged. There was just a lot of interest, particularly for Sen. Obama but also for the Clinton campaign and for the Republicans."
Hershey said that, as a political science teacher, she found the campaign produced "one teachable moment after another," with IU Bloomington students lining up by the hundreds to cast early ballots and primary turnout almost double what it was in 2004.
"It was just an unforgettable time in Indiana politics," she said.