EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Something unusual appears to be developing in the Democratic presidential race in this state: a fair fight.
Wedged between Illinois, which is Sen. Barack Obama‘s home state, and Ohio, which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dominated on March 4, Indiana may be the one state remaining on the primary calendar where both candidates begin with a roughly equal chance of coming out ahead.
That fact alone makes it stand out from states such as Pennsylvania, where the playing field for the April 22 contest offers big advantages to Clinton (N.Y.), or the Oregon race a month later, which clearly tilts toward Obama.
In Indiana, Obama has a home-field advantage, while Clinton has the backing of the popular Sen. Evan Bayh and may have an edge on the kind of economic issues that are likely to dominate the discussion before the state’s Democrats vote on May 6.
My gut tells me (and my gut has been wrong) that Indiana is fertile territory for Obama. 20% of the population lives in Chicago media markets, so they must view Obama as something of a favorite son and that area should go to Obama easily (Obama has not yet lost a state that borders Illinois). Also, Obama is opening 10 offices in the state which ought to give him an advantage in the ground game and if you combine that with his superior air war gained from his fundraising advantage over Clinton, Obama is in good shape here.
On the other hand, it seems that the Limbaugh effect (Republican voting in Democratic primaries to prolong the Democratic primary process) has the potential to play a major role here since Indiana has an open primary. The Clintons have already been campaigning aggressively throughout the state and that should help them quite a bit. Obama needs to get serious in Indiana by holding more rallies (he’s been in Indiana once since Indiana started to matter) and sending surrogates to get local media coverage.
Bottom line? With an aggressive campaign, Obama should win Indiana in a close race.