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A new poll was released this week in Indiana, showing Mitt Romney ahead of Barack Obama 49% to 40%. This is excellent news for the Obama campaign. Let me explain.

One of the biggest surprises for me on election night 2008 occurred in the state of Indiana. Shockingly, Barrack Obama carried the state! It was extraordinary. Obama actually outperformed his polling numbers to win the state by a handful of votes. It was an amazing achievement that was even greater in scope than his victory in Virginia or North Carolina, even though those states turning blue received far more press and fanfare.

The Hoosier state is very conservative. It is so conservative even a moderate “Blue Dog” Democrat like Evan Bayh opted not to run for Senate re-election, because he knew he would lose.

This is also a state where long time conservative Senator Richard Lugar is currently facing a serious primary challenger from the right, because he is not viewed as conservative enough by many residents of the state.

With each passing year, the state grows more conservative.

Around here when it comes to politics, we often call Indiana, “the Alabama of the north, but without the black vote.” Which means it’s going to be really hard for a Democratic President to win!

On the Presidential side, Indiana had not voted for a Democrat for President since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And the 1964 race was just before the modern Presidential map had been solidified, with Republicans capitalizing on a Civil Rights backlash to capture the south. And expanding on social issues (God, Guns and Gays) to capture most of the rural, less educated states. Meanwhile over the same time frame, the Democrats had been marginalized to the coasts and the better educated northeast states. On a per capita basis, it is legitimately possible to find more confederate flags flying in southern Indiana, than you will find in the heart of Mississippi.

These cultural influences really showed up on Election Day.

Here is how Indiana voted in Presidential elections since 1984 when 3rd party candidates were not a factor to sway the numbers. Note the huge margin of victories for the GOP candidate in two-way Presidential Indiana races from 1984-2004. (20 years).

Reagan 62%
Mondale 38%

Bush 62%
Dukakis 38%

Bush 57%
Gore 41%

Bush 60%
Kerry 39%

In 2004 Indiana was a non-competitive Presidential state.

But then came this stunning result in the 2008 Presidential race.

Obama 50%
McCain 49%
Dem + 1%

No other single state in the Union had a more dramatic change in 2008 than Indiana. In fact you would be hard pressed to find any state in the history of modern Presidential politics that swung 22 points in just one four year Presidential cycle.

Not even the Deep South states of the early 1960s, (as they quickly shifted allegiances from Democrats to Republicans to fight racial equality) moved that fast.

Additionally unlike other parts of the country, Indiana is not dramatically changing demographically. Indiana is not Arizona or Nevada with regard to the growing Hispanic vote. Blacks constitute just 9% of the state population. (And the entire black population of the state is really confined to about 2 counties) So the amazing turn around in 2008 was not due to an overwhelming black voter turnout, or a change in population demographics.

So is Indiana slowly turning into a purple state?

Actually no.

Just ask Senator Richard Lugar who is in a dogfight primary after being challenged from the right for his seat. Or ask Even Bayh who had no chance of re-election even as a right wing “Blue Dog” Democrat. Even Mitch Daniels, who despite running as a George Bush economist, has been resoundingly elected. Daniels currently has a 63% approval rating in the state. Heck, in Indiana’s largest city (Indianapolis) which sits in the only county where black voters have any influence, (Marion County) a Republican Mayor easily swept into office.

It’s actually easier to elect Democratic Senators and Governors in North Carolina and Virginia than it is in Indiana. Those states are turning purple. Indiana is Hoosier red.

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Barack Obama is one heck of a candidate. For any Democratic Presidential candidate to be competitive here practically takes an act of God.

Now fast forward to 2012. There are a lot of political pundits that are trying to “read tea leaves” to figure out what the landscape of the next election will look like.

Will it look like 2008?
Will it look like 2004?
Will it look like 2000?

Well, very quietly President Obama is running at his 2008 Presidential level or better.

According to the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average of polls for each state, (Which has an outstanding track record for determining results) Obama is currently running ahead of Romney in Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Florida. In many of those states his current lead is greater today than it was just before Election Day in 2008.

Then came this poll out this week on Indiana from Huey/DePauw.

Romney 49%
Obama 40%
GOP +9

So lets be clear.

In a state the Obama campaign has already written off; In a state moving increasingly to the right; In a state where no Democratic money has been spent; In a state where George Bush won by 21% in 2004; And in a state where Obama currently has 39% approval rating; the President trails by just 9% points? With 11% undecided?

Indiana is not a state the White House needs to win re-election. In fact I can assure you that there is no path to 270 in the Obama war room that would ever include Indiana as a must win state.

But the fact that even here, the GOP candidate is running closer to 2008 in terms of support than he is 2004, 2000 or 1988 is real important.

If Romney is not carrying Indiana by at least 16 points on Election Day, then he has lost Ohio. And thus, he has lost the election. Historically Ohio has been a very close race when neighboring Indiana has given GOP candidates’ 20-point margins in victory.

I would even bet at this point in 2008, Obama probably trailed McCain by a similar number in Indiana.

Well, in April and February of 2008, two Indiana polls were conducted looking at Obama vs. McCain

Downs Center (April/Indiana/2008)
McCain 51   
Obama 44   
GOP +7

SurveyUSA    (February/Indiana 2008)   
McCain 50   
Obama 41   

The small poll that came out this week, examining this forgotten state, was largely overlooked by the masses. But it offers a fantastic early insight into just how this race is beginning to shape up.

I honestly think it is among the most important early polls we have seen thus far.

The trend-lines and historical data are very clear.

Folks, Romney is in trouble. He is way behind where he should be.

Remember this was a state that Obama won last time that was not suppose to be contested. But Obama is currently pretty much in the exact same position he was 4 years ago. Much like Nevada, and other battleground states, nothing really seems to have shifted to the magnitude public reports would have you suggest.

If that 9-point spread in Indiana remains or even comes down a bit, the Obama campaign may have to decide if they want to put resources here and contest the state again.

I will never forget seeing Sarah Palin in Indiana campaigning days before the 2008 election. That was when I knew Obama had won. The fact that the GOP still had to campaign in Indiana that late in the election told me all I needed to know. Likewise, if Indiana quickly becomes a battleground state by this summer, the Obama campaign will be in excellent shape.

Its rare that a poll that has a GOP candidate up by 9%, in state won by Democrats last cycle, has given the Republican such an ominous warning.

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