TERRE HAUTE —
Detroit car makers unveil the latest Mustangs and Corvettes on Wabash Avenue.
California vineyards test-market new line of wines at the Banks of the Wabash Festival. Chic models stroll down a runway in Hulman Center, dressed in never-before-seen creations (maybe even one of those gigantic Medusa-looking masks that nobody else on the planet would ever wear) transported here by New York fashion designers. Movies should premiere here — the “Vigo County Film Festival” … has a nice ring to it, right?
Yes, Vigo County’s uncanny presidential bellwether status is “gold, Jerry, gold,” to borrow a “Seinfeld” phrase.
No other county in the United States more closely reflects the nation’s political inclinations, according to research by historian Dave Leip, who maintains the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections website. If a famous toy company allowed it, the local slogan could be “Americans R Us.”
Vigo came through again Tuesday night, just as it has for the past 124 years, with just two fluke exceptions. A majority of the county’s voters picked President Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, mirroring the national outcome. Going into Tuesday, Vigo County had favored the overall presidential winner in every election since 1888, except for misses in 1908 and 1952.
The chances of extending that streak — by far the most accurate in the nation — seemed dicey. Obama looked likely to win re-election, but Romney seemed a sure thing to carry Indiana by a wide margin. If so, even politically fickle Vigo County would be hard-pressed swim against the Hoosier tide.
Yet, it happened.
Romney won big in Indiana, but the president carried Vigo County and the nation — just like predecessors George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower (the second time), Truman, FDR, Hoover, Coolidge, Harding, Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. The only two non-winners favored by Vigo County were Adlai Stevenson in ’52 (the Democrat senator from neighboring Illinois who lost to Dwight Eisenhower) and William Jennings Bryan in ’08 (the famous orator who lost to Republican William Howard Taft). Vigo missed those by narrow margins — Stevenson polled 35 more votes than Ike, and Bryan topped Taft by 462.
The margin between Obama and Romney was close, too, but the president prevailed. As of Wednesday afternoon, the county’s unofficial tally gave Obama 19,707 local votes to 19,368 for Romney. Of Vigo’s 30 correct picks in the past 32 presidential elections, only two carried the county by a slimmer margin — John Kennedy over Richard Nixon (by 165 votes) in 1960, and Harrison over Grover Cleveland (by 171) in 1888. Fittingly, the 2012 national popular-vote split was tight, too — Obama received 60 million votes to Romney’s 57.3 million.
Our clairvoyance fascinates America. Newspapers from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., cited Vigo County’s track record in their coverage Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Even CNN gave this community face time (or, more specifically, “map time”). Yes, at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday — when most “watch parties” were running on caffeine fumes — CNN election night anchor John King displayed a nearly all-Republican red map of Indiana, before the cameras zoomed in on a small blue patch on the state’s western border. With Wolf Blitzer looking on, King then explained the county’s incredible knack.
Outsiders wonder how the community became so representative of the country. Vigo does contain a unique collection of people (which comes as no surprise to longtimers). It’s blue-collar, yet white-collar, with organized labor roots (dating back to unionism pioneer and Terre Haute native Eugene V. Debs) working alongside professors and administrators at five local colleges. There are pockets of affluence and a large middle-income sector, but also one of the state’s highest child poverty rates. The county is less racially diverse than the nation, but remains home to numerous ethnic populations. The city leans Democratic, but that party, locally, includes lots of socially conservative folks.
It all adds up in a simple mathematical concept — Vigo County equals America.
Thus, if startup companies, inventors and businesses wanted to try out a new product, what better place to serve as a litmus than this county? As we’ve stated before, the town-hall style presidential debate in 2016 should happen here. Indeed, to feel the nation’s pulse, the only logical place to visit is that little dot John King pointed to on the CNN map — Vigo County, as American as it gets.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
Detroit car makers unveil the latest Mustangs and Corvettes on Wabash Avenue.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
If insults are a form of flattery, Steve Martin still likes us.
Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
MARK BENNETT: At 71, Paul McCartney still rocking it eight days a week
I’ll admit, I worried about Paul McCartney during the blistering intro to “Helter Skelter.”
MARK BENNETT: Forget the cellphone, enjoy the summer
The third rail post from the left on the second-floor patio. By holding a cellphone at eye level, with your left hand, while standing perfectly still, without blinking, a faint one-bar signal was possible. Possible. Otherwise, there was no connection to the outside world at this retreat spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where my wife and I stayed earlier this month
MARK BENNETT: Time for surf, sand and a good book
I can read a book on the beach. Until I start sweating. Then it feels like exercise, minus the fitness perks. My brain shifts into neutral as the waves roll in, blissfully washing away footprints in the sand and my inclination to think. Better put, I enjoy starting a book on the beach, and finishing it later, elsewhere.
Police: Mom, son conspire to kill witness
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department seems to have prevented what it believes was a mother-and-son conspiracy to commit murder.
Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment
Pioneers think counterintuitively. Where others see widespread apathy, they focus on the possibility for progress. In a way, the 2013 Year of the River celebration began in the 1970s.
MARK BENNETT: After running for 28 hours straight, what’s another 5 miles?
Some phrases can only be uttered by a few people, or none at all.
MARK BENNETT: Glitches show limitations of high-stakes testing concept
The dog ate my homework. That age-old excuse — based on a shockingly unforeseen complication — rarely works for a kid who didn’t finish yesterday’s math assignment. Yet, in a role reversal, Indiana school children, along with their teachers and administrators, are left to accept an explanation for a disruption best described as the mother of all ironies.
MARK BENNETT: One step at a time to save lives
Remember that name.
MARK BENNETT: Sometimes, the mere posing of questions is significant
The era seems quaint now, almost like a fable. When people left their house doors unlocked. When the sight of a police officer in a school meant it was Career Day.
MARK BENNETT: New reality steers Nashville singer to Crossroads for Historical Society concert
People pass through the Crossroads of America for lots of reasons.
Business trips. College campus events. Federal prison sentences. Visits with relatives. Gas pitstops.
Or maybe a career change and a twist of fate.
Ty Brown makes his first stop in downtown Terre Haute as the headliner of a multi-band Sweet Sensations Country Jam concert May 4 in the Ohio Building — a fundraiser for the Vigo County Historical Society.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute barber ‘sharpens up’ customers for 50 years
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week.
MARK BENNETT: Memories, emotions rush back with announcement of new pope
I saw a pope once.Read quickly, that sentence sounds too casual, almost as if we’d crossed paths at Home Depot. Say it slowly, though, and the significance comes through.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections of grid success stir with Brent Anderson’s passing
A few hundred miles away, and nearly 40 years gone by, a special game ball still occupies a fond place in Rudy Bohinc’s memories.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- John bypassed by Hall of Fame again