If you have been watching the cable networks tonight, you know that Lake County, Indiana, holds the key to the Indiana Democratic primary. Lake County includes the city of Gary, a place that is the poster child for the Rust Belt. Its population has fallen with the fortunes of the steel industry, from 178,000 in 1960 to 102,000 in 2000. It is the largest city in the country that is not a county seat. For many years Gary was high on the list of the most dangerous cities, and while its ranking has improved, it still managed to post a 40% increase in homicides in 2007. The population is 84% black, and statistically it has all the problems you might expect of a city: poor schools with low test scores; high crime rates; high unemployment. It is, in other words, a place where Barack Obama ought to run very well.
And apparently he is doing just that. I found this late-breaking report from the Washington Post online, posted at 10:50 EDT:
Gary Mayor Predicts Possible Indiana Shocker
Updated 11:12 p.m.
By Alec MacGillis
As the fate of a nailbiter Indiana primary – and possibly the course of the Democratic race – hung on his city, Gary Mayor Rudy Clay said just now that it might take a while yet to finish counting the vote in Lake County, which includes Gary, and said tonight his city had turned out so overwhelmingly for Barack Obama that it might just be enough to close the gap with Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Let me tell you, when all the votes are counted, when Gary comes in, I think you’re looking at something for the world to see,” Clay, an Obama supporter, said in a telephone interview from Obama’s Gary headquarters. “I don’t know what the numbers are yet, but Gary has absolutely produced in large numbers for Obama here.”
Clay said the results were late coming in from Lake County because of the large numbers of absentee ballots that had to be counted – about 11,000. Under local practice, all of the cartridges from voting machines in Gary and nearby East Chicago are first collected at the local airport before being driven to the county headquarters to be tallied with the results from the rest of the county, he said. He said there were no major technical problems holding up the count.
“It takes a little time. We want to be sure that every vote is counted fair and right,” he said. “I just talked to the director out there and they are working like junkyard dogs to get that done as soon as possible. They are taking some time but I told them to do it right. That’s what taking the time.”
Gary, a predominantly African-American, post-industrial city, is considered a major stronghold for the Illinois senator, whose South Side Chicago home is just a short drive across the border. Smaller towns within Lake County are expected to break in a more balanced way between Obama and Clinton. In 2004, 188,000 voters turned out in Lake County, with 61 percent voting for John Kerry. Clay predicted that Clinton would win other towns in the county by narrow margins but that Obama would rack up huge totals in Gary, where he said some precincts reported only a handful of votes for Clinton. So closely was he following the local vote counting that he did not even know how close the statewide vote had gotten – a four percentage difference at 10:30.
In March, Clay predicted the race would come down to Gary, telling the Northwest Indiana and Illinois Times that tonight on CNN, “They are going to point at Indiana and say Hillary Clinton is leading by one point but Gary ain’t come in yet.”
Clay himself was deeply involved in get out the vote efforts this afternoon, going door to door to drum up anyone who hadn’t yet voted, he said. A volunteer in the Obama office in Gary said that canvassers who went out today found that in some neighborhoods almost everyone reported having already cast an absentee ballot.
“It was one of the biggest get out the vote campaigns I’ve seen,” Clay said. “It was the biggest get out the vote campaign ever in Gary for a presidential election.”
At this moment, 11:50 p.m., Clinton is clinging to a 17,000 vote lead over Obama with 99% of the vote in and Gary holding the balance. This is pretty scary stuff. Gary is, for all practical purposes, an extension of Chicago, and those Chicago boys know how to steal elections. Mayor Richard Daley may have stolen the 1960 election in Illinois from Richard Nixon on behalf of John F. Kennedy.
If Obama can pull out a win in Indiana in the wee hours, the Democratic presidential race is over.