Economy at the top of mind for Ind. voters in tight primary vote

Time was, says Superior Court judge candidate George Pancol, all you had to do to win election in this town was to get UAW Local 663 behind you. No more.

The union hall is still here — doubling as a polling place for Tuesday's intensely competitive primary — but the jobs are gone. And the hard economic times that have followed were top of mind for voters here.

"We need to get some change in the world here. We need jobs in Anderson," said Dave Moss, 45, who drives 35 miles to Indianapolis for his manufacturing job.

Both Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama campaigned here in this racially mixed town, where black people make up about 15% of the population. Statewide turnout approached general election levels for Indiana's most significant primary in 40 years, according to Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita.

To many of those voting in Anderson, where 3,000 jobs have disappeared in the last three years, a vote for Clinton is a vote for her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and the good economic times of the 1990s.

"When he was the president," said Emery Flatt, 51, there was "no deficit." Flatt works laying carpet after losing his job as a truck driver when an auto battery plant here closed.

Now, high prices for gas and food "puts a real hurt on people," says Bob Roddy, a local talk-radio host who supports Obama. "What used to be middle class is now the working poor."

White voters praised Clinton's experience and also said they did not believe Obama had not been influenced by the controversial remarks of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

"Your minister teachers you life lessons," said Gayle Hall, 50, who voted for Clinton.

The misconception that Obama is Muslim is also persistent here. (He is not.) "I've had to refute that so many times over the past six weeks," Barry Welsh, a Democrat running against Republican Rep. Mike Pence, said as he visited a polling place.

Clinton's proposal for a three-month suspension of the federal gas tax — and Obama's criticism of it — dominated the last weekend of the campaign. Many people here now find themselves driving to jobs in other cities, and paying for the gas to do it, so Clinton's idea won some favor.

"It's not pandering," said Betty Munden, 50, an Indianapolis insurance agent who voted for Clinton. "Twenty dollars makes a difference in my pocketbook."

Steve Hilligoss, 59, a retired autoworker, brought his mother Ginger, 82, to vote. She was suffering from a sore toe. Both support Clinton, but not because of the gas-tax suspension. That, Steve Hilligoss said, "is like Mom and the Band-Aid — it's easy to put on" but doesn't amount to much.

In a reflection of the race's volatility in Indiana, Jason Chubb, 35, a former president of the local Young Democrats, said he switched his support to Obama only last weekend. Canvassing for Clinton, "I found myself struggling to have the passion," he said. Chubb rejected Clinton's argument that she's more ready for the White House. "Experience has got us where we're at today," he said.