INDIANAPOLIS | A once-in-a-generation presidential candidate with a huge campaign cash advantage turned Indiana in 2008 from solidly Republican into a battleground state narrowly won by Democrat Barack Obama.
But this time around Indiana is barely a blip on the radar screens of Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, even as the two candidates fight for votes nearby in Ohio and Wisconsin.
According to Marie Eisenstein, associate professor of political science at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Hoosiers have soured on Obama and public opinion polls show Romney holds a double-digit lead less than two months before Election Day.
"Romney is just so far ahead in the polls in Indiana that obviously the Romney campaign doesn't believe it needs to spend any resources to win the state, and the Obama campaign has apparently decided it should spend its money elsewhere and not try to capture Indiana again," Eisenstein said.
Romney must win 96 electoral votes from states Obama carried in 2008 to be elected president.
Four years ago, Obama defeated Republican John McCain in Indiana by 28,391 votes, a 1.03 percent margin of victory, on a night that saw Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels re-elected with 58 percent of the vote.
"It wasn't a slam dunk," Eisenstein said. "And obviously it's looking like that wasn't something that the Democrats can count on long term in terms of presidential races."
Indiana is the quintessential "red state." Since 1940, when Hoosier Wendell Willkie was the GOP nominee, Indiana has voted for the Republican candidate for president in every election except 1964, when it favored Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater, and 2008.
Eisenstein said Obama was able to win Indiana's 11 electoral votes thanks to his many visits to the state during the competitive Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton, massive Election Day turnout by Hoosier Democrats, especially in Northwest Indiana, and seemingly unlimited campaign funds.
Obama outspent McCain in Indiana by a nearly 6-to-1 margin. Romney leads the president in fundraising this year.
Pete Seat, spokesman for the Indiana Republican Party, said Romney's five recent visits to the state — compared to zero by Obama — and the more than 600,000 telephone calls to Hoosier voters made from 11 Republican "Victory Centers," including a St. John site, will help return Indiana to the Republican column this year.
In addition, he said, Hoosiers are used to supporting candidates who share many of Romney's political positions, such as Daniels and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats.
"(Obama's) got a record that is the complete opposite of what the voters in this state have been voting for the last several cycles," said Seat, a Schererville native.
The president has a single Indiana campaign office about two miles north of the Statehouse in Indianapolis. While Obama surrogates have popped in to the state for fundraisers, including stops by Vice President Joe Biden in Northwest Indiana and first lady Michelle Obama in Indianapolis, the all-out statewide effort seen in 2008 is all but absent this year.
Indiana Democratic Party spokesman Ben Ray said he's confident the smaller Obama campaign won't hurt other Democrats running in Indiana this year, particularly U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly, who is running against Republican Richard Mourdock.
"Joe Donnelly is his own guy: he's with the president when he's with him, he's against him when he's against him, and Hoosiers like to split their tickets," Ray said, referring to the practice of voting for candidates of different parties in separate races. "We won't see the presidential effect with down ballot (races) too heavily."
"The American populace has just become so adept at split-ticket voting, or voting personality, that Joe Donnelly doesn't need to be concerned," she said.