Indiana Primary: Late, But Not Least Democratic presidential candidates are spending big money and time in Indiana for the primary season for the first time since 1968. Voter registration has skyrocketed ahead of the May 6 contest.
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Indiana Primary: Late, But Not Least

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Indiana Primary: Late, But Not Least

Indiana Primary: Late, But Not Least

Indiana Primary: Late, But Not Least

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Democratic presidential candidates are spending big money and time in Indiana for the primary season for the first time since 1968. Voter registration has skyrocketed ahead of the May 6 contest.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Two weeks after Pennsylvania votes, it's time for Indiana and North Carolina. Those primaries are scheduled for May 6. For Indiana, it's the first time in 40 years that a primary could have a real impact on the national contest. In 1968, Indiana was Robert F. Kennedy's first victory of the year.

From member station WFIU, Adam Ragusea reports that Indiana is buzzing.

ADAM RAGUSEA: Since the Democratic presidential campaign started showing up in Indiana a few weeks ago, the candidates and their surrogates have demonstrated that they know a few things about this usually insignificant primary state. They know which sport people around here seem to like most.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Some of you might know I'm a total basketball fanatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SMALL TOWN")

RAGUSEA: They know John Mellencamp lives here, somewhere. "Small town" seems to get played at least twice at every rally. And if there's one thing that the candidates really want to show they know about Indiana, it's the local (unintelligible).

HILLARY CLINTON: Do we have some Hoosiers for Hillary in the crowd?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

RAGUSEA: It's been 40 years since the political world focused its attention on the Indiana primary. Back in 1968, the candidates included Senators Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, as well as the state's own governor, Roger Brannigan, running as a stand-in for President Lyndon Johnson who had dropped out of the race.

Since then, it's been a long cold, lonely winter. But with neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton able to put away their rival, the possibility that Indiana might actually see a presidential candidate, much less help choose one, has exploded into reality.

In recent weeks, at dozens of campaign events in high school gyms with lousy sound systems, Indiana's sudden and unexpected relevance has been celebrated almost as a spiritual epiphany.

BARON HILL: Like Moses, Indiana for 40 years has been wandering in the wilderness, but not anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

RAGUSEA: That was Indiana Congressman Baron Hill at an Obama rally in Columbus, Indiana. Back in January, he was one of a gaggle of politicians wondering aloud whether Indiana should join the migration of states attempting to move up the primary calendar, it didn't, and now it's in the spotlight.

Hoosier Democrat's relished the sense of control they now feel. Indiana has 72 pledged delegates at stake on May 6th. North Carolina also votes on that day making it the biggest remaining delegate prize after Pennsylvania. And voters are registering in record numbers.

TODD ROKITA: Since four years ago, the State of Indiana is up about 655,000 registrations. And as of January 1st of this year, we're up a 160,000.

RAGUSEA: Indiana's secretary of state Todd Rokita says he is delighted that the contest is bringing new people into the process, but the workload for his office has been daunting.

ROKITA: I've gotten reports and talked to counties that have worked through the weekends, one or two counties who have been on 24-hour-a-day shifts to deal with this load. And it's also putting a stress on our electronic systems even, but I welcome it. This is good. And if some folks have to work a little bit extra, so be it, that's what we're here for.

RASUGEA: Helping to push Indiana into the limelight is the fact that Clinton and Obama seemed evenly matched here. As elsewhere, Clinton is strong among blue-collar voters, while Obama dominates in the northwestern corner of the state in the Chicago media market where 20 percent of Hoosiers live.

To them, the Illinois senator is practically a native son. But the rest of Indiana's population is gathered in mostly small to medium-sized cities and towns evenly dispersed across the terrain. That spells bus tours, diner stops, retail politics - the kind of campaigning a small town boy can really get into.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Ragusea in Bloomington, Indiana.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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