As national polls show Democrat Barack Obama opening up a lead in the presidential race, Republican John McCain finds himself battling for electoral votes in some unlikely states — including Indiana.
The state has been reliably Republican in every presidential election since 1964. This year, however, thanks to economic worries, Indiana is suddenly a battleground state, which makes it difficult for McCain to close the deal with voters that he once thought he could count on.
On a recent evening in Huntington, Ind., 52-year-old business owner Gary Hall watches his daughter cheer at a high school football game. Hall says that he is firmly on board with supporting McCain, like much of northeast Indiana. Huntington itself is the hometown of former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Hall says he likes McCain, calling the senator "a tough old codger."
"I think he did well by picking Palin...What she did in Alaska, I think, is very impressive," he said. "That really swayed me more. I wasn't going to vote Democratic or for Obama. He scares me."
But barely the length of a football field away in the parking lot of the General Dollar store, another longtime Republican expresses some doubts about McCain.
Fifty-year-old landscaping foreman John Brennemen calls McCain a Bush follower. "Bush hasn't done much for this state in the last few years. Especially in the last few years," he said.
Then, Brennemen says something that is right off an Obama campaign poster.
"I'm ready for a change. I mean, it's been tough last couple of years. It's time for a change. We'll see what happens," he said.
Why The Change In Indiana?
In 2004, President Bush carried Indiana by 20 points. Right now, polls say the best McCain can claim is a five-point lead.
The struggling local economy and the latest news from Wall Street help Obama in the state. But, it is also true that McCain has spent very little time or money here so far, while Obama has been running what one veteran Indiana analyst calls a 'boatload" of TV ads – most of which highlight the economy or Obama's biography.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing for McCain is ambivalence among what should be his strongest supporters — and that could affect voter turnout.
On Main Street in the tiny downtown of Roanoke, Jean Williams describes herself as a very loyal Republican. But she says that she has to support McCain, in part, because a vote for him is a vote against Obama.
Williams runs a small manufacturing business that employs 32 people. Her complaint is that McCain has clashed with his own party too often over the years and that he is too liberal.
Nearby, 70-year-old Larry Lahr emerges from the local post office and watches Williams talk. Lahr is an independent who says the choice is tougher than usual this year. He plans to simply flip a coin to decide which candidate he will support.
Who Will Come Out Ahead On Nov. 4?
The odds for McCain on Election Day in Indiana are probably better than a coin toss, but not by a wide margin.
Expect McCain to step up his presence in the state in the final weeks of the campaign, but don't for look for Obama to let up.
In fact, Obama's first big rally after Tuesday's debate is scheduled for the state fairgrounds in Indianapolis on Wednesday.