Hoosier State Becomes a Battleground

Vigo Co., Ind., has a knack for picking the election winner.

Nov. 1, 2008 — -- You've heard of Joe the Plumber. Well, meet Joe the Boot Seller.

Joe Tanoos has owned Tromp and Tread, a work and sport shoe store, for 30 years. He lives in Vigo County in western Indiana, a place where they somehow always seem to pick a White House winner.

This county has gone with the winning presidential candidate all but two times over the last 100 years, and every time since 1952.

"I think we are probably a microcosm of the country," said Fred Bauer, a lifelong Terre Haute resident. "We've got a rural population, an urban population. And we are Hoosiers, so we are pretty independent."

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Vigo County and Terre Haute, the county's largest city, but even Democrats in this blue collar town tend to be socially conservative.

"The local Democratic label to the national label isn't very good, says Tom Steiger, a professor of sociology at Indiana State University. "So it really forces people here to become independent voters. They can't just sort of vote the ticket."

So it's not party affiliation but issues that rule in Vigo County. And this year, the economy is issue No. 1 for a community hit hard by manufacturing layoffs.

Fewer jobs in town mean less foot traffic at Joe Tanoos' boot store.

"I'm really concerned about my business and my pocketbook," said Tanoos. "I'm in safety footwear, and my factory business has really dropped off, as well as my walk-in business."

Tanoos voted for President Bush in 2004 because of national security issues, but this time around he's going with the Democratic choice.

"I believe we are ready for a change, definitely, a fresh approach, a fresh face. That's why I'm going to vote for Barack Obama," said Tanoos.

Indiana hasn't gone with a Democratic candidate for president since it chose Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And in the 2004 election, George W. Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry by nearly 20 points.

Both parties usually bypass this solidly red state, but this election season has been different.

Thanks to a hotly contested Democratic primary in May, Obama has made 48 campaign stops in Indiana, including eight stops since the Democratic convention.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain, on the other hand, has visited the state just two times.

Obama lost that Indiana primary and Vigo County to Hillary Clinton. Obama struggled among white working class voters in the Hoosier State. Clinton garnered 64 percent of white working class voters compared with 35 percent for Obama.

Polls show a virtual tie between Obama and McCain in Indiana. In an effort to shore up this once ruby red state, Sarah Palin has made three appearances in the state in the last month.