Indiana's Gov. Backs Midwest To Support McCain

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says he was pleasantly surprised by John McCain's choice of a running mate. He says the race at the top of the ticket is close, but McCain will win. Daniels says the Midwest can prove to be both unpredictable and competitive.

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Mitch Daniels is the Republican governor of Indiana, the traditionally conservative state. But the GOP lost three congressional seats there in 2006. Daniels is running for reelection, and NPR's Linda Wertheimer stopped by a breakfast in his honor held on a train.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Frank Sinatra liked to travel around the Midwest in one of the train cars now parked at St. Paul's Depot, we were told. It's an art deco observation car now hooked to the back of a little train of railroad antiques made into dining cars for the Indiana delegation breakfast to visit with Governor Mitch Daniels.

Governor MITCH DANIELS (Republican, Indiana): Isn't this cool?

Unidentified Woman #1: This is too cool.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's awesome.

Unidentified Woman #1: Very nice.

Unidentified Woman #2: Awesome.

Gov. DANIELS: Are you're working your way back?

Unidentified Woman #1: We are. We are.

WERTHEIMER: At the very back of the train, we talked to the governor in the observation car. It's from the now-gone Milwaukee railroad. Its seats are sky blue - perhaps that's why Sinatra liked it. I asked the governor if he thought Hurricane Gustav could be bad for the Republicans, bringing back memories of Katrina.

Gov. DANIELS: It depends what your memories are. I mean, the idea that somehow Katrina was the fault of the federal government or the guy who's president is one of the worst bum raps of all time. I mean, first blame goes to Mother Nature; there were lots of mistakes made locally and at the state level as well as the federal.

WERTHEIMER: Lessons were learned, Daniels said. He also said the party did the right thing in St. Paul, even if this cut-down convention won't showcase Republicans as originally planned. What about Senator McCain's choice to be vice president, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin?

Gov. DANIELS: You know, I was surprised like a lot of people. But I like surprises and this has been a pleasant surprise, at least so far.

WERTHEIMER: Governor Daniels said later that the situation of Palin's unmarried pregnant daughter is a private family matter. Like many other Republicans here, he is hoping the Palin choice will work.

Gov. DANIELS: I'm excited. I've wanted to see a woman on the Republican ticket for two or three decades now, and I think Governor Palin was worth waiting for.

WERTHEIMER: Governor Daniels is one of a few Republican governors left in the Midwest. Up for re-election, he is favored to win. But Republicans nationally are looking at substantial losses, especially in the House and Senate.

What do he and his fellow Midwest governors think has happened? Daniel says it's cyclical.

Gov. DANIELS: Well, don't forget the rhythm of politics. Not very many years ago, our state of Indiana was reliably Democratic for governor, had been for 16 years before our little insurgency broke through. Neighboring states had all been Republican for quite a long time. And usually a long run like that finally plays out. You ask me what we talk about in the Midwest; kind of hard for me to answer because there aren't any other Republicans to talk to, till you maybe get up here to Minnesota.

WERTHEIMER: Daniels believes the race at the top of the ticket is close. John McCain will win, he says.

Gov. DANIELS: I think a national ticket of a war hero and a moose-hunting governor - pretty appealing to folks in our state. We're a state where small towns are still very important. The Democratic tickets have a little trouble relating to people in small towns in a way that obviously Sarah Palin doesn't. So I think the Midwest could prove to be very unpredictable and very competitive.

WERTHEIMER: Daniels has taken up the Democrats' call for change, saying as a governor he has been able to solve problems. Asked if Indiana might vote for the change Barack Obama talks about, he says no.

Gov. DANIELS: Honestly, I don't think it's likely, I really don't. But if it did, it would probably be the result of a real swelling of turnout in predictably Democratic areas. If he makes a sincere effort there, he might make it close. I don't think he wins, but if he does, I'm not sure it spills over the way it might have in a different era.

WERTHEIMER: In the primary, Obama's big turnout in Indiana's cities made it close, but Hillary Clinton won anyway, carrying the suburbs and smaller towns, especially in southern Indiana. Daniels believes the same divisions will help McCain and Palin carry Indiana in November.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, St. Paul.

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