Image: Barack Obama
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images
Sen. Barack Obama campaigns in Evansville, Ind. the night of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.
updated 4/24/2008 4:22:02 PM ET 2008-04-24T20:22:02

Hillary Rodham Clinton's Indiana strategy relies on the state's similarities with eastern neighbor Ohio, where fertile farmland and factory towns produced blue-collar workers who propelled her to victory there.

To the west is Barack Obama's home state, Illinois, where he has long been a familiar face in the Chicago TV market that serves northern Indiana and trounced Clinton in the state's Feb. 5 primary. The Illinois senator often jokes about "making a break" for home while campaigning in the Hoosier state.

The result: Neither candidate has a clear advantage as they seek the 72 pledged delegates at stake in Indiana's primary on May 6. Polls are split, making Indiana perhaps the biggest question mark left on the primary calendar.

Obama, who holds the edge in overall delegates, says the state is a potential "tiebreaker." Clinton tells Indiana crowds their votes will decide who becomes the next president.

Relishing their first opportunity in four decades to make their choice count in a Democratic presidential primary, voter registrations have shot up by some 160,000 since January. Election officials expect the record for Democratic ballots cast in a presidential primary — almost 477,000 in 1992 — to shatter.

That may play in Obama's favor, especially among independents, a strong base for him in other states. Indiana has an open primary.

Obama's campaign has been intensely focused on new voter registration ever since staff arrived in large numbers back in mid-March. The campaign bought a list of voting-age residents who hadn't registered and called through it to see if there were potential supporters to get involved.

It also had a special effort for young voters, giving away thousands of tickets for a free Dave Matthews concert, and offering high school and college students who register their peers the chance to play basketball with the senator.

But if Obama is to carry Indiana, he'll have to reach deep into Clinton territory — rural voters and white working-class communities like those along the Ohio River.

"Democrats in some of those areas are very close to the Clinton legacy and they have very good feelings toward Clinton," said state Sen. Earline Rogers, an Obama supporter whose district covers much of economically depressed Gary, where a large black population and the proximity to Chicago are expected to help Obama. "It's the known quantity of Clinton versus the unknown quantity of Barack Obama that might make a difference in the rural areas."

The two campaigns have had a regular presence in the state since Obama first held a town hall meeting in Plainfield, an Indianapolis suburb, on March 15. And both brought in top organizers to run the state operation.

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Obama outspent Clinton 4-to-1 on Indiana television ads through mid-April, dropping $1.6 million to Clinton's $400,000. Clinton and her top surrogates — husband Bill and daughter Chelsea — have blanketed the state with more than 40 campaign stops in the past month.

Both campaigns have about 20 offices statewide.

Relying on endorsements, specific constituencies
Clinton has the support of popular Sen. Evan Bayh, a former two-term governor often mentioned as a potential Clinton running mate. Bayh has joined Clinton on daylong campaign trips across the state, and her first Indiana TV ad featured him almost exclusively.

Former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, backed Obama in early April in a move that could help Obama's foreign policy and national security credibility. Obama also is touting his work with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; one TV ad shows them together as the announcer describes Obama as a leader on arms control.

Clinton has an edge among the state's superdelegates. Bayh and four others have endorsed Clinton, while three — including new Rep. Andre Carson — support Obama. The state's four other Democratic congressmen have yet to choose sides.

Other traditional supporters might not be as helpful.

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll showed women, a Clinton stronghold, are evenly divided between the two in Indiana. And while Obama does well among black voters, Indiana's total black population is just 9 percent.

Many of those black voters are in the industrial cities along Lake Michigan, where Obama expects to do well. He also expects strong showings in Indianapolis and its burgeoning suburbs and Bloomington, home to Indiana University's main campus.

Those areas typically account for more than 40 percent of the statewide Democratic vote, and Obama courted the college vote heavily with the Matthews concert at Indiana University. An unannounced stop on campus less than a week later sent people rushing into the streets and crowding a local pub to see him.

Clinton could do well in the blue-collar factory towns throughout the state's northern half, many of which have been hit hard by job losses — much like Ohio, another heavy manufacturing state. Indiana's unemployment rate, though, is nearly a percentage point lower than Ohio's 5.3 percent, which might soften her advantage with blue-collar workers.

Still, her message that Indiana's top issue is "jobs, jobs, jobs" resonates with many.

A raucous crowd of 5,000 showed up for a Clinton rally in the fading factory city of Anderson, where the last of the auto industry plants that once employed 27,000 people closed last year.

"A lot of people will be concerned about Iraq, but everyone cares about jobs," said Vicki Chase, a biology teacher at Highland High School in Anderson who supports Clinton.

Obama backers say his campaign has spurred enthusiasm they haven't seen since the state last played a significant role in a presidential primary. That was 1968, when Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy were fighting for the Democratic nomination.

"I don't care how many times I hear him," said Jean Page, a retired travel agency owner who heard Obama speak in Fort Wayne. "He's invigorating and uplifting."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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