With zero percent of precincts reporting and no votes yet cast, Indiana appears to be off the table for the president, despite his visit to an auto-parts plant in the state on Tuesday.
While that might seem rash, considering no Republicans have announced a 2012 run, White House officials told The Hill last week that they do not think Indiana will be in play for Obama’s reelection bid.
Even if one of the Hoosier State’s two potential Republican presidential candidates — Gov. Mitch Daniels and Rep. Mike Pence — isn’t on the ticket, Obama faces a tough road, as Indiana joined much of the rest of the nation in returning to its red roots in the midterm.
Officials expressed pessimism about winning the GOP stronghold given the changing political tides that swept Republican Dan Coats to the Senate. The GOP also added two House pickups in Indiana.
Republicans in the state now hold six of Indiana’s nine congressional seats, both Senate seats, the governor’s office and both houses of the State Legislature.
Obama was the first Democrat to win Indiana since 1964, but it wasn’t easy. All he had to do was basically move there for a month of campaigning in the spring of 2008.
The protracted 2008 primary race between Obama and Hillary Clinton famously expanded Democratic voter roles in unlikely states, and Indiana was the best example where that paid off for Obama in the general election, though he lost the state’s primary to Clinton.
Obama made 40 stops and spent about $6 million in advertising in Indiana in his contest against Clinton, according to The Associated Press, and the campaign kept its foot on the gas, spending at least that much on advertising in the general and opening more than 40 field offices in the state.
And still, Obama edged out Republican nominee John McCain by a little more than 20,000 votes of the 2.7 million cast, even with the wind behind Democrats’ backs.
While the White House believes Indiana is out of reach, it argues the rest of the states Obama won — including traditional Republican strongholds like North Carolina and Virginia — remain in play.
Aside from those three battlegrounds, other states Obama turned from red to blue included Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Nevada and New Mexico.
The president’s visit to the state on Tuesday — his fourth since taking office, according to CBS’s Mark Knoller — is more about the larger message of economic recovery than an effort to keep Indiana in the swing-state column.
But Democrats on the ground in Indiana insist 2010 wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said the infrastructure Obama put in place in 2008 helped the party limit its losses, allowing him to “take solace” in a few places, like Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D) win.
“We ran great campaigns, but you just don’t see it in the results,” Parker said. “The infrastructure and the organization are still there.”
Parker disputed the White House belief that Indiana is off the table, saying an improving economy will lead Hoosiers to credit Obama with creating and saving jobs in the Midwest.
“I think that the visit [Tuesday] tells me it isn’t completely off the table,” Parker said. “There’s plenty of places in the country where they could have gone where the Recovery Act and the auto restructuring paid huge dividends. But they’re in Kokomo, Ind.”
But with finite resources and time — Obama has quite a few more daily obligations than he did as a candidate — analysts and observers say they would be shocked to see the campaign spend any time or money in Indiana.
Bruce Stinebricker, a political science professor at Indiana’s DePauw University, said that before Obama campaigns in the Hoosier State, he and his staff should “break out the champagne” to celebrate a reelection that’s in the bag.
Stinebricker noted that it wasn’t just Republican gains in Indiana that made the terrain forbidding for Obama, but the margins by which the GOP pushed back on years of incremental Democratic gains.
Brad Ellsworth (D), for example, a centrist, Blue Dog congressman, lost to Coats, a former lobbyist, by almost 15 percentage points.
“If it was a tidal wave nationally, it was a tsunami in Indiana,” Stinebricker said.
To be sure, Obama still has a number of paths to reelection that don’t involve Indiana. He didn’t even really need it in 2008.
At the time, Stinebricker said, it was the icing on the cake. In 2012, Obama and his staff would be thrilled just to have the cake.