Politics & Government

Clinton or Obama? Indianans cite many reasons for choice

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, talks on the phone as he goes door-to-door campaigning in Elkhart, Ind., on Sunday.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, talks on the phone as he goes door-to-door campaigning in Elkhart, Ind., on Sunday. Jae C. Hong / AP

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. _Indiana voters are showing that they have two ways of deciding how to vote in Tuesday's too-close-to-call Democratic primary: Some zero in on a specific issue, while others rely on gut feelings about a candidate.

What they don't want are simple answers to complex problems, so they warn candidates not to try wooing them with promises of gas tax moratoriums or pledges that their health care bills will soon go down.

"People really understand the issues. They're really astute," said Connie Thurman, an Indianapolis United Auto Workers representative.

One reason folks here are so involved in this election: They're not used to this kind of intense presidential campaigning, so they're enjoying all the attention and their state's importance.

"We don't even usually get presidential campaign ads in Indiana, not even in the general election. We're seen as a reliably red (Republican) state," said Julia Fox, an associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University.

Until a few weeks ago, people here figured their votes would be ignored, and as a result, "a lot were not paying that much attention, at least not enough to form an opinion," said pollster Ann Selzer.

So now they're having to decide quickly between Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and they want to do it right. A lot of them are single-issue deciders.

"I knew Barack Obama was my candidate as soon as I saw where he stood on the (Iraq) war," said Jill Schimpff, a Jeffersonville candy store owner.

Rose Stevens, a retired teacher from Starlight, decided to go with Clinton about three weeks ago after studying the candidates' views on nuclear power. Stevens, who follows energy and environmental issues closely, worries that no one has a reasonable plan to clean up nuclear waste.

"Hillary is at least an agnostic on the subject of nuclear power," Stevens said, and for her that's better than Obama's stance. Obama has said that while nuclear power "is not necessarily our best option, it has to be part of our energy mix."

Denise Ferrell's main concern is health care, and while she doesn't know all the nuances of everyone's plans, she has a sense that "Obama will make it more affordable."

Amy Gerrish, an Indianapolis nail technician, volunteers at her daughter's school and likes how Clinton wants to overhaul the No Child Left Behind law.

But don't assume, voters said, that they're easily convinced. Pollsters have noticed that people are taking their time to decide — surveys conducted over the weekend found as many as 15 percent unsure of their choice or leaning to someone besides Obama or Clinton — and many are unusually wary of standard sound-bite appeals.

That was notably apparent in the past week, as Clinton and Obama battled over the airwaves and at rallies over the gasoline tax. Clinton wants a summer moratorium on the 18.4 cent a gallon tax; Obama does not.

Few voters seemed impressed by either stand.

"The moratorium is a Band-Aid," said Dot Lynn, a Sellersburg accountant. "You have to go after the big oil people. That's the only solution."

Opel Nein, a Jeffersonville retiree, plans to vote for Clinton and likes what she called "immediate relief." But she doesn't expect to convince her undecided friends — "this really is only temporary," Nein conceded.

The biggest determinant in these closing days appears to be an intangible — the hard-to-define comfort level that voters develop with a candidate. Henry Carter, an Indianapolis foundry worker, said that Obama gives him that feeling. His background, Carter said, suggests that "he understands working people."

Greg Ezell, a Jeffersonville chemical salesman, felt just as at ease with Clinton.

"Put all three of them (Obama, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and Clinton) in a room and she's the smartest," he said. "I also like how she's handled all she's been through when her husband was in the White House."

These voters often list specific issues where they agree with the candidates. But probe to find what distinguishes one candidate from another and they think hard and offer reasoning similar to that of Hazel Entsminger.

After describing how much the health care system needed reform, she said that her choice came down to this: "I like Obama, don't get me wrong," Entsminger said. "I just like Clinton better."