ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Now, there's been a cut off for some early voters in one state, South Dakota. We'll get to that in just a minute. First, though, to Indiana, a swing state with a congressional district that really swings, like a pendulum. This is the fourth time Republican Mike Sodrel and Democrat Baron Hill have run against each other for the same House seat, representing southeastern Indiana. Call it a re-re-rematch, and what's really weird? They've traded it back and forth.
Mr. ETHAN JONES (Political Science Major, Indiana University): It's an area that's traditionally Democratic, but feelings may tend towards being more conservative.
SEABROOK: Ethan Jones is a political science major at Indiana University, southeast in New Albany. He's in the student game room, holding his ping pong paddle and waiting for his turn at the table.
Mr. JONES: I think it just has to do with the national political climate. When it swings toward the Republicans, Sodrel wins and when it swings for the Democrats, Hill wins.
SEABROOK: So, it went like this. Democrat Baron Hill took over the seat in 1998. The back and forth began in '02 with Hill.
Representative BARON HILL (Democrat, Indiana): I won by 10,000 votes.
SEABROOK: And then Sodrel.
Representative MIKE SODREL (Republican, Indiana): We ran, again, in '04, and we won in a contested race.
Representative HILL: And in 2006, I won by 10,000 votes again. So, here we are again in 2008 doing it all over again.
(Soundbite of ping pong game)
Mr. JONES: Gosh!
SEABROOK: OK, OK, the two politicians weren't actually playing ping pong. But they might as well have been. It's so rare for two candidates of opposite parties to trade a seat back and forth that no statistics are kept about it. This might be a first.
(Soundbite of chattering)
SEABROOK: On a grassy hill behind the game room, IU Southeast is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony of some new dorms, and Republican Mike Sodrel is working the crowd.
Mr. SODREL: Hey, Rick.
Mr. RICK: How's it going, Mike?
Mr. SODREL: All's going well. How about you?
Mr. RICK: Good. Good to see you.
Mr. SODREL: Good to see you.
SEABROOK: He knows a lot of people here. Sodrel built a successful bus and trucking operation in this area, and he's a fixture in the business community. People know him as a staunch conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-taxes, and these days, since he's not currently in Congress, he's got time to campaign.
Is it easier to run as an incumbent or as a challenger? You've been both.
Mr. SODREL: Well, there are absolute money advantages to be an incumbent. I mean, an incumbent will, under almost any circumstance, raise more money than a challenger will. On the other hand, the challenger has more time available because he or she can be in the district while the incumbent is in Washington.
SEABROOK: There is some poll that showed you, I don't know, seven or 10 points down.
Mr. SODREL: Yeah. The only poll that I've been a hit in was the poll they took on election day 2004. Every other poll that was ever taken, I was behind. So, it doesn't surprise me, so it just kind of depends on which direction wins more, where I'm in style or not.
SEABROOK: Now, that's Mike Sodrel. Across town, the incumbent, Democrat Baron Hill, is politicking just as hard.
Representative HILL: Hi, everybody.
Unidentified Woman: Hi.
Unidentified Man #1: The congressman is here.
Representative HILL: How are you doing?
Unidentified Woman: Congressman, how are you?
SEABROOK: He's in the New Albany Municipal Government Building going office to office, shaking hands and asking for votes.
Unidentified Man #2: It's looking good for you.
Representative HILL: Well...
Unidentified Man #1: No, nothing's for sure.
Representative HILL: Nothing's for sure. I am not taking anything for granted. I'm working like I'm 20 points behind.
Unidentified Man #2: Well, good.
Representative HILL: Yeah.
SEABROOK: Hill is a local attorney, a conservative Democrat for tighter budget controls and a strong military. He's also staunchly pro-gun. The NRA gives him a grade of A. So, really, Sodrel and Hill aren't that far apart on the issues or the polls.
SEABROOK: Have you done any polling?
Representative HILL: I have done some polling, and I have a lead. It's interesting because I was talking to my pollster yesterday, as a matter of fact, and he said, at this point in 2004, I had a 51 to 38 percent lead, and I ended up getting defeated that year. So, when you overheard me say I'm running like I'm 20 points behind, that's the reason why. This state's district can change quickly, and you can never assume anything.
I think a lot of it has to do with the national trends. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a river. I'm just swimming with the currents that take me wherever they're going to take me, and there's nothing I can do about it. But we're working hard, not taking anything for granted. Hopefully, the good people of Southern Indiana will reelect me to Congress.
SEABROOK: So, both candidates admit this district has got a poker face. There's almost no way to tell what the voters are going to do. The only way to get a sense is to ask them.
(Soundbite of people talking)
SEABROOK: This is the Chicken House. It's a roadside bar and restaurant in Sellersburg, Indiana, neon Nascar signs, posters of beer babes, and the best fried chicken in Southeast Indiana. This is where I found my impromptu focus group eating lunch at the next table over.
Mr. JIM PURR: I'm Jim Purr (ph). I'm a farmer from Starlight, Indiana.
Mr. DAVID FRANKY: I'm David Franky (ph), self-employed.
Mr. JUNIOR CREWER: Junior Crewer (ph), salesman.
Mr. JIM O'NEAL: Jim O'Neal (ph), forward(ph).
Mr. DOUG BEARMAN, SR.: I'm Doug Bearman, Sr. (ph). I'm a retired school teacher from Hazelwood Junior High.
SEABROOK: I heard you guys talking about Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel over here. What were you guys saying?
Unidentified Man #1: I'm basically, I used to be a Baron Hill man. But when he came out and said he was going to back Barack Obama, probably I would have voted for Baron if he wouldn't have backed Barack.
Unidentified Man #2: I think he's too liberal, running up there with Teddy Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi. He needs to be out.
Unidentified Man #3: I agree. I agree, he needs to go. I'm all for Mike Sodrel.
Unidentified Man #4: I'm for Baron because I've known Baron all my life. He's been a great friend to me, and I think he's great in Congress.
SEABROOK: You seem to be the odd man out of this table.
Unidentified Man #4: Not the odd man.
Unidentified Man #6: Yes, he is.
Unidentified Man #7: Yeah, he is odd.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SEABROOK: Well, thank you all very much. I appreciate it.
Unidentified Man #8: Appreciate it.
SEABROOK: What should I get to eat?
SEABROOK: So, at this point, it's anybody's guess. The best predictor of this race could be how people here vote in the presidential election, and then, whether they'll split their ticket farther down. Still, whoever loses could be back. These two candidates are getting awfully good at this match up.
(Soundbite of talking)
SEABROOK: Now, I'm definitely going for the fried chicken, but do I want fries or onion rings? Or fries? Or onion rings? Or fries...
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