Democrats Worry Indiana Will Revert To Red

One of the big surprises of the last election was when Barack Obama carried Indiana. The state had been reliably Republican in presidential voting for 40 years. But with President Obama's approval rating in the state down to 40 percent, and with the midterm elections next week, polls indicate Indiana is ready to go back to being a red state.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Mary Louise Kelly in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

President Obama faces the likelihood of a much more Republican Congress after next week's election. The question is how many seats the Republicans will gain in the House and Senate, and whether theyll capture one or more of the chambers.

Early voting has already begun, so you're deciding now. And we'll have analysis in a moment from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

KELLY: First though, we're going to visit Indiana, a state that Barack Obama won in the last election. The state has been reliably Republican in presidential voting for the past four decades. But this year, President Obama's approval rating in the state is down to 40 percent. And with the election fast approaching, polls indicate that Indiana is ready to revert to form.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports from Elkhart, Indiana.

DON GONYEA: Elkhart County, on the Indiana-Michigan border, is one of those places you might pass through on the way to Chicago or Indianapolis. It has big stretches of farmland but also manufacturing. In fact, it's known as the RV capitol of the world for it's concentration of recreational vehicle factories. It's also the kind of place where it's a very big deal if the president of the United States stops by.

President BARACK OBAMA: It is good to be back in Elkhart.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: That's from February of last year, just weeks into the Obama presidency. It was a town hall meeting on the economic stimulus package. Then, six months later, he was back again to announce millions in federal grants for the region to help develop electric vehicles.

The big issue here is jobs. Elkhart County's unemployment rate topped 20 percent early last year. It's improved since but it's still 13.4 percent, the worst in the state.

Sixty-two-year-old worst Kirk Newman works as a bartender and describes himself as an independent who did not vote for Mr. Obama. He says he's voting Republican against the Democratic incumbent in next week's tight congressional race here.

GONYEA: Is this election about Obama?

Mr. NEWMAN: Yeah, I believe it is - him and his policies. His policies haven't worked. They're not working anywhere. Where are they working?

(Soundbite of raking leaves)

GONYEA: On Elkhart's west side yesterday, 45-year-old Lonnie Allen was raking leaves in his front yard. He is unemployed, laid off from a good paying factory job last year. He's a democrat who says he still supports the president.

Mr. LONNIE ALLEN: It felt good for him to come here and recognize what we're going through right now. We appreciate it. But now we want the outcome. You know, we want change. We want something to happen about it. Dont just come down here and say, okay, yeah - you guys are struggling, and then go back to everything else that's going on.

GONYEA: Allen does say he'll be sticking with the Democrats this year.

Unidentified Man #1: They're pushing for you here.

Unidentified Man #2: One, two...

(Soundbite of music)

GONYEA: This is the annual Oktoberfest celebration downtown on Saturday night. It's organizers include 31-year-old Jay Weldy who says he can see the economic stimulus package at work in Elkhart.

Mr. JAY WELDY: I'd say that, you know, there's been e a lot of road work. We have bridges that are being resurrected. You have the facades for some of these buildings being redone.

GONYEA: Jay Weldy is an independent who did for Mr. Obama in '08.

Mr. WELDY: I really liked the platform of change. Sometime you wonder what change is. But at the same token, you know, I think he needs a little bit more time. We still have two more years to go and I'm going to be positive.

GONYEA: But and here's the problem for Democrats. Weldy won't say how he's voting this year. He does say he likes the idea of more balance in Washington.

Nearby, 42-year-old Antoine Haynes also describes himself as independent. when he talks, his words echo the president's.

Mr. ANTOINE HAYNES: I am hoping that most Americans understand that this is not an easy fix. You know, it's going to took them time. It took some to, you know, get into the hole and it's going to take some time to really get out.

GONYEA: But just when he sounds like just the kind of voter Democrats can count on this year, Haynes says...

Mr. HAYNES: Im - you know, Im going to say this. I'm still undecided...

GONYEA: Press him, and Haynes seems to be leaning Democratic. But the fact that he can't say for sure is a troubling sign for the party, because he's in the company of a lot of independents this year.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Elkhart Indiana.

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