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Indiana Looks to Get Out the Youth Vote

October 14, 2010 at 4:42 PM EDT
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Special correspondent Betsy Stark reports from Indiana, a rust belt state, where there is a battle to get out the youth vote. This is the first report of a new series from Patchwork Nation project.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Now: to campaign politics and the first of several stories from our Patchwork Nation project.

On air and online, we have been reporting on how the bad economy is affecting communities across the country. And between now and Election Day, special correspondent Betsy Stark will visit three Rust Belt states. She begins with young voters in Indiana.

BETSY STARK: Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, Hoosier country, home to Big 10 sports and Big 10 spirit.

John Philip Sousa once called the I.U. marching band one of the snappiest in the country. And, this year, its fight songs are fitting background music for one of the most competitive congressional contests in the country.

TEACHER: All right, let’s go the 9th Congressional District, all right?

BETSY STARK: Election 2010 has an entire course devoted to it at I.U. On the day we visited, the class was gaming the tossup in the 9th.

TEACHER: Baron Hill got $1.4 million. That’s a good healthy incumbent’s war chest, but this is not chicken feed, $844,000, probably well over a million dollars by now.

BETSY STARK: A race that pits Democratic incumbent Baron Hill, a state basketball hall of famer who has served the 9th for 10 of the last 12 years, against Republican challenger Todd Young, a local prosecutor and former Marine.

STUDENT: And I feel like you need to support the direction we’re going in, because to not support that is going to do nothing but cause a complete standstill and freeze all progress.

BETSY STARK: The nearly 40,000 students on this campus make up a hugely influential voting bloc.

How many of you were fired up about voting in the 2008 election?

An historic turnout of I.U. students in 2008 helped candidate Obama squeak out a victory in the state and helped Baron Hill win the district by a nearly 20 percent margin.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re going to bring some Indiana basketball to Washington next year.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BETSY STARK: No small feat in a part of the state otherwise so conservative, the district as a whole went for John McCain.

KELLY SMITH, president, Indiana University College Democrats: My name is Kelly, and I’m calling on behalf of the Indiana Democratic Party. How are you doing?

BETSY STARK: I.U. College Democrat Kelly Smith helps get out the 2008 vote.

KELLY SMITH: We won Indiana. Indiana went blue by 11,000 votes. And we had — we registered 11,000 people on this campus. So, something that we like to say is, like, that felt like a direct impact for us. And that really got people linked into the process.

BETSY STARK: Bloomington is the most populous, the most liberal, and the most economically affluent part of the district. But the 9th, like many districts, is a true cultural and political patchwork, according to Dante Chinni, head of the Patchwork Nation project.

DANTE CHINNI, project director, Patchwork Nation: Yes, it’s tough. And most districts are like this. I mean, there’s only 435 of them. When you slice the country up, it’s kind of hard to make sense of them.

BETSY STARK: The district is labeled a wired and educated region because of Bloomington and I.U. But the rest of the 9th is another story. Drive south in the 9th toward Kentucky, and things are a world apart from Bloomington.

Indiana’s 9th district makes up much of Southern Indiana along the Ohio River and Kentucky border. North of that, here in Jackson County, are vast expanses of farmland and deep pockets of frustration with government.

While the Brownstown Braves faced off against the Pekin Musketeers for Friday night football in tiny Brownstown, Indiana, we got an earful at the church chili supper in the school gym.

And what do you think of the job they have doing in Washington over the last two years?

ROGER KIERMAN, dairy farmer: I think it stinks.

BETSY STARK: You think it stinks?

ROGER KIERMAN: Yes.

BETSY STARK: Why do you think it stinks?

ROGER KIERMAN: They haven’t accomplished anything. We have got too many career politicians. They’re out of touch with the American people.

BETSY STARK: You feel that way about Baron Hill, too?

ROGER KIERMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. He’s had his chances.

BETSY STARK: Driving along Indiana Route 50, we came across a group of citizens marching to bench Baron Hill.

MAN: He’s too liberal.

WOMAN: He voted cap and trade.

MAN: He voted for every single…

WOMAN: … only two — only two representatives in Indiana that voted cap and trade. He voted for stimulus. He voted cash for clunkers, voted the health care. He voted for raising the ceiling on the debt. He voted for everything that we’re against.

MAN: I have got 11 grandkids, and I don’t want to see my grandkids stuck with all this debt that we’re running.

BETSY STARK: So you’re holding him accountable for that trillion-dollar deficit?

MAN: Absolutely, absolutely.

BETSY STARK: They plan to march in protest every Friday until Election Day.

Baron Hill also faces an uphill battle in Scottsburg, a small town still reeling from the long decline in manufacturing that has sent thousands of Indiana jobs to Mexico and China.

MORTON MARCUS, economist, Indiana: Fear is as present in the 9th District as it is anyplace in the nation. And people in the 9th District are concerned that Pelosi and Obama and other Democrats are taking this country in the wrong direction.

BETSY STARK: How it all turns out in the 9th may well depend, once again, on the students of I.U.

How many of you think the Democrats have done some good things and need some more time to make them work?

STUDENT: I really think it’s important to keep Democrats in Congress so that he has the time and Democrats have the time to make those — to make those changes, so that the country can actually see that it’s been worthwhile.

BETSY STARK: The politically engaged students in this class believe the stakes in this election are just as high as they were in the last one. But their teacher thinks they are the exception.

What’s your sense of this campus more broadly? Are these students fired up to vote?

TEACHER: No, I think most of them don’t even know there’s an election.

BETSY STARK: They don’t even know there’s an election?

TEACHER: Yes. And if they know what — it’s not a big part of their day-to-day life right now. It’s not like a big event. 2008 was a big event.

STUDENT: I have heard a lot of people just say, I’m registered to vote. But does that really mean they’re going to vote?

RACHEL CURLEY, student, Indiana University: Yes, I have definitely heard the same thing.

BETSY STARK: At the university radio station, young Democrats are worrying about the enthusiasm gap on the air.

RACHEL CURLEY: Because I was talking about the mid-terms with a friend of mine, and they were like, do you mean, like, exams? And I was like, no, no, I don’t mean the exams.

(LAUGHTER)

BETSY STARK: Rachel Curley called out Baron Hill on her weekly program for not doing more to energize the campus.

RACHEL CURLEY: Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I don’t see Baron Hill doing a whole lot to really grab the student vote at I.U. And I feel like that’s like a huge deal.

BARRETT TENBARGE, Vice Chair, Indiana University College Republicans: Are you planning on supporting Republican Todd Young or Democrat Baron Hill?

BETSY STARK: It’s all an opportunity for challenger Todd Young.

BARRETT TENBARGE: He’s been at our College Republicans meetings a lot. He’s got a big presence on campus, so it’s exciting to see a candidate like Todd Young put emphasis on college students, even though, traditionally, you would think of college students as a more liberal group.

BETSY STARK: The liberals are still the majority on campus. But, as we heard again and again, they seem to be sleeping through this midterm election season. And not even a marching band may be able to wake them up.

JEFFREY BROWN: In her next report, Betsy Stark will look at an economically-battered swing district in Ohio, another critical battleground this election season.