Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Silver Streak Through Elkhart: Will It Stimulate More Hoosier Dem Turnout?

President Obama had good reason to blow trough Elkhart, Indiana on his two-city barnstorming tour touting his stimulus plan. This small, once-oasis of a Rust Belt city is a savvy choice for a campaign-style backdrop, and a perfect place to refer to repeatedly in his first prime time White House press conference last night.

GF-R slapped together a thumbnail sketch of Elkhart for WaPo’s website, noting its economic slump as the capital of the scuttling RV industry. Elkhart’s staggering, and swelling, unemployment rate has been cited as the prime reason Obama advisors selected this recently struggling city as a backdrop, including Almanac of American Politics guru Michael Barone, even though he makes passing note of its recent stunning electoral shifts.

Economic factors pointed to this locale as a newsworthy whistle-stop on this tour, but ElectionDissection can’t resist investigating those very electoral shifts that Barone merely mentioned, electoral shifts that made Elkhart a “must stop” for Obama on a road show mapped out to shore up his political base as much as to push PR for this legislation.

Elkhart County was ground zero in the electoral upheavals that made Indiana an unexpected battle ground in Election ’08. This last reliably Republican redoubt in the Rust Belt – only Indiana rejected Bill Clinton for Bob Dole in this region in ’96 - offered up a nail biter in November, when Barack Obama became the first Democrat to carry the Hoosier State since LBJ’s ’64 landslide, albeit narrowly.

John McCain still managed to claim Elkhart, but at a drastically diminished majority from the overwhelming differential that George W. Bush scored over John Kerry in ’04. Even while ceding the county, Obama scored the highest Dem presidential raw vote total ever in Elkhart Co., and the nearly 14,000 more votes that Obama garnered than Kerry amounted to roughly half of Obama’s statewide margin of victory.

Elkhart was one of only nine out of Indiana’s 80 counties carried by Obama in this year’s primary when he gave Hillary Rodham Clinton a fright in a state that most pundits assumed was firmly in her column. Obama campaign organizers successfully harnessed the enthusiasm that spilled over from Obama’s comfortable 18 point victory over Hillary to maximize his general election vote in Elkhart, pushing him closer to capturing those 11 electoral votes.


Elkhart was once home to Miles Laboratories, the original makers of Alka-Seltzer. Miles has since been swallowed up by Bayer AG, the German pharma giant, but, like the millions of Americans nursed back to health to the sing-song of its celebrity cartoon spokescharacter Speedy Alka-Seltzer™, the previously perpetually-strong recreational vehicle and mobile home industries spared Elkhart much of the heartburn that ailed surrounding counties in Michiana, and the Rust Belt at-large. Elkhart has posted continual population increases at each decennial census, while the rest of Michiana stagnated.

At the outset of an economic downturn, it’s often recreational and other “non-essential” industries that take the first, and sharpest, hit as consumers tighten their belts. Elkhart’s troubles may well prove to be over-pronounced in the immediate term, and may yet rebound back to former fortitude once consumers regain confidence.

So, Elkhart doesn’t yet confound the pattern that ElectionDissection has been illuminating from our inception. Conventional Wisdom is insisting that Elkhart’s troubles spurred the spike in its Democratic vote in 2008 with traditionally Republican voters now demanding a more activist economic agenda. Demographic and electoral trends may not yet permit us to declare that “Elkhart is Obama-country,” but Elkhart does resemble on a more modest scale - with its relative historical economic strength and a more educated electorate, less susceptible to the siren call of economic populism of either the Democratic John Edwards stripe or the Mike Huckabee Republican variety - the thriving ‘burbs of North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia that have pushed those states from Ruby Red to Perplexed Purple.

1 comment:

Ted said...

Now, here's an example of chutzpah: The Republicans didn't get their act together enough to challenge Obama for not being constitutionally qualified to be President as an Article 2 "natural born citizen" so Obama's White House steals the census from the Commerce Department against the specific instructions of the constitution itself -- "actual enumeration" under Article 1.