The last time Indiana voted for a Democratic president was in 1964. But with McCain only 2 per cent ahead in the polls, it is increasingly becoming as a battleground state.
If Barack Obama is to win here, the 100,000 odd people of Gary, Indiana will have a lot to do with it. Gary’s mayor, Rudolph Clay, claims that there’s hardly a vote that won’t go to Obama. In the Democratic primary, the town turned out a nearly 100 per cent vote for him.
Part of this has to do with the fact that Gary has the highest proportion of African Americans (about 85 per cent) of any city in the United States with a population of over 100,000. It is a town that has changed colour dramatically over the last few decades. Unfortunately, almost everything else that’s changed during that time has changed for the worse.
In the 1960s, the steel mills that lie around the city began cutting jobs. So when Obama talks about people who grew up on food stamps near the shuttered steel mills of Chicago’s south side, it has resonance in Gary, which is just 40 minutes away.
Its politics changed during that decade as well. In 1967, it became the first major American town to elect a black mayor. In 1972, Gary hosted America’s first National Black Political Convention. What followed was “white flight”: money moved out. A quarter of the people here now live below the poverty line.
Almost every shop on the west side of Broadway, the main street, is shut, and has been for the last quarter of a century at least. At the Palace theatre, it still says the Jackson Five are playing tonight.
The Jacksons did live here once, but by the time Michael Jackson was recording Thriller, Gary was topping the US crime rate charts and seemed in terminal decline. It remains among the 20 most dangerous towns in America. Last year, there were 71 homicides. Nowadays, the only place with a buzz—and a queue outside it—is Payday loans.
Unsurprisingly then, Obama’s message of change has resonated here. But change doesn’t just mean electing a black man. It means jobs; fewer visits to Payday; the opening of shops on Broadway, and if all goes well, even the Palace theatre.
But should Obama win, Gary’s voters will place a crippling burden of expectation on Obama. They wait for November…