Indiana: On the Scene (UPDATED All Day)

Will Hoosier Dems Say Bye-Bye To Bayh May 6?

Indianapolis, Ind.–If you’re an Indiana Democrat and Evan Bayh is on your team, the chances are you win. The popular U.S. Senator and two-term former governor has backed candidates for nomination to statewide office, Congress, and local and state legislative offices. His endorsement is considered the political equivalent of a savings bond:  it usually matures with interest when the nominations are made, in conventions or primaries.

This may change after the presidential primary May 6th.  After two decades of saying "All the way, Evan," Hoosier Democrats may finally say to their revered "Mr. Democrat":  "Bye, Bye, Bayh.  Take a hike." 

After exploring and coming close to a White House bid himself, Bayh strongly endorsed and campaigned for Hillary Clinton.  His name is almost always on the pundits’ “short list" compile of potential vice presidential prospects for Clinton. 

And he has done more than endorse and campaign for his colleague from New York.  As Brian Bosma, former state House speaker, told me, "I was told by a prominent Democrat that Sen. Bayh is really breaking arms to get endorsements for Clinton."  Indeed, the senator is reportedly responsible for a Who’s Who of high-profile Hoosier backers for the former First Lady:  former Gov. Joe Kernan, State House Speaker Pat Bower, former Speaker John Gregg, and State Party Chairman Dan Parker.  Two freshmen Democratic House Members — Joe Donnelly from the South Bend-area and Brad Ellsworth of the Evansville area–remain neutral in their role as "superdelegates." Another Democrat elected to Congress in ’06, Baron Hill of the 9th District, came out for Barack Obama.

Endorsements usually care more weight in a state where the state machinery of both major parties is considerably stronger than in most other states.  Whether the most potent endorsement of all in Democratic circles here still packs a wallop will be one of the key matters to be decided by Democrats May 6th.  

Hoosier GOPers Handicap Demo Primary

Indianapolis, Ind.–If you think the polls are all over the board on who will win today’s Indiana Democratic presidential primary, so do prominent Republicans who are watching the balloting in their state. Over dinner last night at the Oceanaire Restaurant with three prominent Hoosier Republicans, I learned that while each provided fresh insight into the presidential voting on the other side, there was by no means agreement on whether the winner would be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

All the talk of historically Republican voters participating in the Democratic sweepstakes Tuesday is clear and present. Former House Speaker Brian Bosma, now the Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, revealed over dinner that polling conducted for his GOP colleagues in the legislature points to this. Bosma specifically referred to data that showed, in the district of Republican State Rep. Dan Leahe in North Indiana that showed fully 22% of voters who have a history of voting in GOP primaries intend to vote in the Democratic race for President.

But as it was with Hoosiers I spoke to throughout Monday, Bosma was not sure how those voters would come down in the Obama-Clinton showdown. But the Purdue graduate quickly noted that "most of Indiana lives in small towns, goes to church, and believes in the Second Amendment [an obvious reference to the controversial Obama statement about small-town Pennsylvanians being “bitter” and “clinging” to guns, religion and resentment toward aliens]." His guess about the results: "I say Hillary Clinton by four points or less." (Clinton ran commercials slamming Obama for his statement during the final days of the Pennsylvania primary but, inexplicably, has not run similar TV spots in Indiana).

Chris Faulkner, a longtime political consultant who has run scores of GOP campaigns in Indiana and Minnesota, agreed. He called it for Clinton "by six percentage points or more" and cited his home area of South Bend–strongly Roman Catholic and ethnic–as a voter region Clinton should be able to vote on. (Clinton won more than 70% of Roman Catholic voters in the Pennsylvania primary two weeks ago and swept ethnics, lower-income, and blue-collar voters).

The one dissenter in my small GOP "focus group" at Oceanaire was Luke Messer–attorney, former state legislator, and onetime executive director of the state Republican Party. Messer, who has written a children’s book explaining what a Hoosier is, is regarded as one of the GOP’s young leaders to watch. In his view, "There’s a big upset in the making. Obama’s going to win and that will be the end of Hillary Clinton."

Messer feels that a strong turnout in Lake County (where Chicago television is seen as much as that originating in Indiana and Obama is well-known) and Marion County (the Indianapolis area, where the 30% African American vote could be as much as 50% of Democratic primary voters) will fuel victory for the Illinois senator. In addition, he noted that the hot contest involving Rep. Andre Carson, who recently succeeded his late grandmother Julia in Congress after a special election, and four opponents could benefit Obama, who has endorsed the newly-minted lawmaker and received Carson’s blessing.

"I’ll bet my mortgage they run out of ballots in Marion," said Messer, predicting a heavy turnout for Obama.

In a few hours, we’ll find out who the "Republican prophet of Indiana" is.

RFKer in ’68 Falls In Love With Obama in ’08

Indianapolis, Indiana–Talking about today’s Democratic presidential primary in Indiana, people almost always gets around to talking about the same primary forty years ago–"the last time there was a Democratic presidential primary that meant something," as Gov. Mitch Daniels reminded me.

That was when Sen. Robert Kennedy (D.-NY), a few weeks after reversing himself and announcing for President, put together a jerry-built effort and won the Indiana primary–the first such contest he competed in that year. In defeating Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and the favorite son candidacy of Indiana Gov. Roger Branigan, RFK started the spring of primary wins that would take him to California (and his tragic assassination) in June.

Forty years almost to the day (May 7, 1968) of Kennedy’s triumph in Indiana, it is still discussed by Hoosiers of both parties (Republican Gov. Daniels quoted from RFK in our talk and believes the senator would have been "a strong supporter of the states taking more responsibility").

One of the key operatives who put together the Kennedy war wagon in the Hoosier State was Louie Mahern, who came from a family that had worked in Indianapolis politics for generations. A former U.S. Marine, Mahern had worked as Democratic chief deputy at the Marion County Board of Registration and was also chairman of the 11th District Young Democrats of Indiana. Passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, Mahern had initially backed Gene McCarthy as the lone opponent to President Lyndon Johnson but, according to Boomhower, he had "the secret hope that Bobby Kennedy would run." After McCarthy’s performance in the New Hampshire primary helped convince Johnson not to run and with Kennedy suddenly becoming a candidate, Mahern switched sides and gathered petitions to place RFK on the primary ballot. Involved in every effort of the campaign, Mahern was one of the three original Kennedy leaders in Indiana. Indeed, when Kennedy decided to compete in the state, "he soon discovered he could initially count on the assistance of three young Hoosier Democrats: Michael Riley, Louie Mahern, and William Schreiber."

After another forty years in politics, Mahern–who was named to a statewide panel by Gov. Daniels–never participated in presidential politics again–until this year.

"I signed on with Obama almost a year ago," the old RFK man e-mailed me, "I have not permitted myself to fall in love again until Barack Obama came on the presidential scene."

Mahern’s return to presidential politics is prompted by the same anti-war sentiments that led to his involvement in ’68. In his words, "Not since Viet Nam have I felt the urgency that I feel today about the condition of our nation and its moral leadership." He agrees that the "passions aroused by Obama are similar to those engendered by Bobby Kennedy."

But where his own anti-Iraq sentiments were important to his signing up with Obama, Mahern finds that Indiana voters "are more concerned with the cost of gasoline than they are with the war in Iraq, if polls are to be believe."

This is different from 1968, he wrote, "when anti war feelings [were] running very high, especially since we had the draft."

So, while he hopes his candidate will win and end what he calls "this drama," Mahern is not confident this will happen. "If Indiana voters fall for the gas tax holiday fairy tale," he wrote, "I will be very disappointed."

Many GOPers Voting in Demo Primary In Indy — But None Will Say Who Benefits?

Indianapolis, Indiana — Sitting in Gov. Mitch Daniels’ cavernous office in the State Capitol yesterday surrounded by portraits of his predecessors and other Indiana notables, I asked the Republican chief executive and onetime Office of Management and Budget director if he felt a lot of his fellow Republicans would come over and vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the Democratic primary here.

"I don’t have a clue," laughed Daniels, "But I imagine some are going to vote in the Democratic primary just to have some fun." When I pressed him as to whether that meant he thinks Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast calls for "Operation Chaos" — Republicans voting for HIllary Clinton to keep the Democratic nomination fight in chaos — was working in his state, the governor opined: "I’m not much for political mischief."

But the man who is a walking encyclopedia of Hoosier politics and history, who had been regaling me with tales about past governors going back to World War II could not let it go at that. He concluded by saying: "I imagine there will be lots of people who will vote for Hillary Clinton — and lots who will vote for Barack Obama. Hey, this is the first time this primary has really meant something [on the Democratic side] in forty years."

If Gov. Daniels sounded as though he had truly had no idea who would benefit from the crossover of Republican voters into the Democratic column tomorrow, he had a lot of company. Walking out into the Capitol steps after leaving the governor, I bumped into Secretary of State Todd Rikota, the top elections officer in the state and a Republican.

"I don’t know," he said, "But if there is a big vote of people who normally vote Republican, it will probably benefit Hillary Clinton. Rikota also told me he felt that Clinton will "probably" win the primary "because it is a union state, and most of the major labor unions here, such as the Steelworkers, are behind her." (The Teamsters Union has given its blessings to Obama, the lone candidate of either party to endorse lifting the consent decree under which the union has been operating since 1989. Teamsters President James R. Hoffa says the decree – meant to prevent corruption — costs his members $6 million a year to comply with. Hoffa and the Teamsters worked hard in Pennsylvania for Obama last month but he still lost by about ten percentage points statewide to Clinton).

Here’s the Rules!

Rikota, State Elections Division head Brad King, and others I talked to gently reminded me that the national news media reporting of "crossover voting" in Indiana is technically incorrect; the Hoosier State has no party registration, so it is easy for someone who has, say, voted in Republican primaries in the past to request a ballot for the Democratic sweepstakes May 6.

"We have what we ‘low propensity’ voters,’" explained Jay Kenworthy, executive director of the state Republican Party, "They pull the Republican lever in perhaps one of the last four primaries and otherwise stay home. This type of voter is likeliest to vote in the Democratic primary."

Whether they are low propensity Republicans or active Republicans, it is clear that a lot of people who don’t normally vote in Democratic primaries. The Indianapolis Star reported on the day before the election that in staunchly Republican Hamilton County, "this year’s early balloting has resulted in quite a shock. As of Friday [May 1], 2,591 Democratic ballots had been requested for early voting, compared to 1,856 Repubican ballots."

"That’s never happened before," concluded the Star.

When I asked campaign aides to Gov. Daniels if this was indeed a sign Limbaugh’s calls for "Operation Chaos," were happening, one said "There’s a lot of that."

But former State GOP Chairman Rex Early disagreed, telling the Star: "I know Limbaugh and others have talked about that and encouraged it, but most Republicans would have to puke to vote for either one of [the Democrats].

Coupled with the fact that more than 150,000 new voters have registered to vote since December, these "Republican voters" are going to play some kind of role in the balloting tomorrow. But since it is difficult to identify them, one cannot truly answer the question of ‘Cui bono’ (Who profits?).

Team Obama" Descends on Indy

Indianapolis, Ind. — Even on the ninety-minute flight from Washington to Indianapolis this morning, it was hard not to sense the "Obamania." Four Washington-area women I talked to — one who had last volunteered for a campaign nearly twenty years ago, the others all first-time volunteers — were headed for Indianapolis to help Barack Obama in the crucial Indiana Democratic primary today.

"Yes, this is the first campaign I ever worked in," Veronica Richardson, a just-retired U.S. Army colonel proudly brandishing her "Women for Obama" button, told me. Richardson admitted she had not followed politics or political issues while in uniform, that she "was in the dark" until she heard and read of Barack Obama running for President.

So now she is headed for Indianapolis until the Wednesday after the primary. What will she do for her newfound hero? "Whatever they tell me to do," said Richardson.

Janice Nuzum and Cecile Glendenning (a Marylander, but no relation to former Gov. Parris Glendenning, an Obama superdelegate) are also first-time campaigners. Lillian Salerno last volunteered for a candidate while an undergraduate at the University of Texas and helped the late Ann Richards (a Democrat) get elected governor in 1990.

"They say Sen. Obama has no experience," Salerno said, "Well, look where experience has gotten us with the last few Presidents." Did she include Bill Clinton in that list of "experienced" Presidents who disappointed her. "Yes," said Salerno, adding that she had high hopes for the Arkansas governor when he was elected "and then I was very disappointed. He turned out like many previous Presidents." She did not elaborate.

In many ways, the four "Women for Obama" I met are not unlike the youthful volunteers who flocked from many neighboring states to help another fresh-faced Democrat in the Indiana presidential primary — Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, whose victory was the first in his 82-day presidential bid that year and which is now being celebrated in a book by Ray Boomhower and an article in "Vanity Fair." At a time when the latest CNN poll today shows Clinton slightly leading Obama by 48% to 44%, the impact these ladies — and many others like them — have on the contest might be significant.

McCain Is No Bush, Says Top Adviser

One of John McCain’s top campaign advisers made it clear last week that the certain Republican nominee for President will not in any way be linked to the outgoing President nor will his election suggest a "third term" for George W. Bush.

At a Washington luncheon hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Charles Black, senior advisor to the McCain campaign, was asked "how do you separate McCain from Bush."

"John McCain is not George W. Bush," shot back Black, a veteran of presidential campaigns since Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford in 1976, "They ran against each other and have disagreed on a wide range of issues — how to win the war in Iraq, federal spending, and climate change [which, Black added, McCain is planning a major address on soon]."

"McCain is his own man," said Black, and noted that "Those who know him understand he is not a protege of George W. Bush." He said that in the fall campaign, there will be "a god knowledge of McCain’s independence" and, if there’s a close race, "he will not fail to win because of George W. Bush."

As to whether the conservative base will come around to McCain, Black told me" "I can get you the list of 175 prominent conservatives, many of whom have a background in the conservative movement, to counter what you say." Referring to my question about "people without a conservative history" such as Virginia businesswoman Bobbie Kilberg and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorini having high-profile roles in the McCain command, Black said: "Carly Fiorini is a lifelong, pro-life conservative Republican. Bobbie Kilberg does come from the moderate win of the party."

He recalled his days in national campaigns after the nominations of Reagan, George H.W. Bush ("to some extent"), and George W. Bush when "we had to work hard on moderates. The conservatives were there." He said that is largely the case with McCain’s certain nomination–that conservatives and conservative organizations are with McCain, but it is the moderate GOPers who need to be brought along.