Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Final Thoughts As Indiana Votes

John and I will be live blogging the results tonight from the ElectionDissection.com election bunker. One county I’m going to be focused on is Indiana’s Lake County. As I mentioned in my post last week, Lake County is one where Obama must do well if he’s going to win. It has a sizable African American population (25%) and is situated just across the Illinois border and Chicago. Thus, it is served by Chicago media and should be highly familiar with Obama, his record, and his candidacy.

Yesterday, Indiana politics guru Brian Howey did a chat on Washingtonpost.com. Talking about Lake County, he said:

“I asked Obama last week if his organizing activities extended across the stateline into Indiana. He said that as the steel mills closed, there were many Hoosiers in the churches and parishes he worked with, and a number of his Illinois neighbors migrated to Indiana. Yes, it's one large economic entity, all inter connected. Obama was expected to have an advantage in NW Indiana, but local sources believe the race has tightened up there. And it was hard to miss the racial fault lines in Da Region. Gary Mayor Clay, Sen. Earline Rogers and a number of African-Americans endorsed Obama; but a number of white mayors from Whiting, Hammond, Crown Point and Hobart sided with Hillary. If Obama loses the 1st Congressional District, he won't win Indiana. It was also noteworthy that Rep. Pete Visclosky didn't take a side. If he had endorsed either one, it would have been a big lift.”

Lake County, as Howey suggests, has an interesting, if troubled, political and economic history. Largely created by the steel industry—and subject to its growth and decline—the area is a microcosm of the white ethnic working class/African American tension that I’ve written a lot about here. When the economy was booming the blue collar whites (many first or second generation Americans) prospered along with blacks drawn north during the Great Migration. When economic fortunes declined, fault lines emerged. The city of Gary, for example, has seen its population decline by half since 1960. In his 1964 challenge to LBJ, George Wallace actually won Lake County in the Indiana primary (and received 16% in the '68 general vs. 11% statewide). Bobby Kennedy's campaign was given a lift with his victory in the '68 Democratic primary, aided by his deft handling of the tense racial dynamics of the county. Kennedy biographer Joseph Palermo describes the campaign here.

Despite these underlying tensions, the county has a solid Democratic voting history. The only time the Republicans captured the county, since Eisenhower's presidency, was in Nixon's 1972 landslide. It has given the Democratic nominee over 55% since 1984 and even Ross Perot's reformist message failed to resonate as he underperformed here compared to his statewide and national average. Lake County also has a rather colorful history of political corruption. For some reading on this subject, see here, and here. Robert Pastrick, the longtime mayor of East Chicago, was defeated for re-election after a court ordered special election called amid widespread allegations of vote rigging. He is now a superdelegate pledged to Senator Clinton so Obama supporters might be wise to watch very closely as the returns come in.

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