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Mark Bennett Opinion

April 26, 2008

MARK BENNETT: The Indiana Primary carries a interesting background into this

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana, a kingmaker.

The rest of America may shudder at the thought of that concept. Our electoral résumé offers little to ease outsiders’ fears about Hoosiers handling the job of deciding the 2008 Democratic nominee for president. Indeed, the Indiana primary packs a peculiar, undistinguished history.

That track record only adds to the drama surrounding this year’s primary.

Indiana may be the tipping point in the marathon campaign between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Both need to win here. Obama is expected to win North Carolina, the other May 6 primary. In Indiana, though, Obama holds a slight edge in public opinion polls. He could bolster his lead in delegates, votes and states won, and disprove doubts raised by Clinton about his electability by taking Indiana along with North Carolina. An Indiana victory for Clinton legitimizes her claims of being the Democrats’ best chance against Republican Sen. John McCain in November. A loss makes her continued candidacy look obsessive and divisive.

It would appear as though the Indiana winner will become the Democratic nominee. Obama calls Indiana a “tiebreaker.”

Judging by past performances, “curse-maker” might be more accurate.

The Obama-Clinton vote in Indiana is expected to be extremely close. On the few rare occasions when the Hoosier primary wasn’t a done-deal blowout, it produced a tight outcome. In each case, the victor did not become the party’s nominee.

In 1984, Gary Hart won Indiana by just 6,078 votes over Walter Mondale. Even after winning Indiana and Ohio on the same day, Hart still trailed Mondale in delegates. Yet the emboldened Hart insisted, “Democrats of this nation are not about to have this contest and this debate end at this time.” Apparently, they were. Mondale won the nomination, and then got routed by incumbent Ronald Reagan.

Reagan felt the other end of that political sword in the 1976 Indiana primary.

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