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Wild cards could determine deadlocked Indiana

  • Story Highlights
  • Clinton and Obama tied in Indiana with less than than a week before the primary
  • Clinton is emphasizing Midwestern roots with blue-collar voters
  • Obama is trying to overcome charges of elitism
  • How the controversy surrounding Rev. Wright will affect the race is unclear
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By Rebecca Sinderbrand
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(CNN) -- If you're running for president in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a little factory experience never hurts.

Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at a town hall meeting in Hammond, Indiana, on Monday.

At a chilly outdoor stop in the blue-collar city last weekend, Sen. Hillary Clinton told the crowd that her father, Hugh Rodham, made and sold print drapery in the region and that as a young girl, she worked the factory floor with her mother and brothers. She reminisced about the church supper "molded salads" of her youth.

"It's one of the many experiences that really taught me about things that I have had my entire life: hard work, self-reliance, individual responsibility," she said. "Good Midwestern values."

Last week, Sen. Barack Obama made his own kitchen table appeal, recalling a family spread that "would have been very familiar to anyone here in Indiana: a lot of pot roast and potatoes and Jell-O molds."

The Illinois senator, who is familiar to voters in the state's northwestern corner, which falls in the Chicago media market, said he hadn't strayed far from his own blue-collar roots. He fought charges of elitism from his presidential rivals -- potentially lethal in this working-class state -- telling voters at an Indianapolis gas station that he still owned just five suits and four pairs of shoes.

Michelle Obama on '360'
Michelle Obama speaks out about the Wright controversy to CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Tonight, 10 ET

"It's hard for me to figure that out, given that I was raised with far fewer advantages than either of my two opponents," he said. "So on the one hand, I don't want to go out of my way to prove my street cred as a down-to-earth guy."

Clinton won in Pennsylvania, as expected. Obama is the favorite in North Carolina, which votes with Indiana on Tuesday.

The landscape in blue-collar Indiana -- one of the few remaining major prizes, with 72 pledged delegates at stake -- is less certain. Neither candidate has been able to take a decisive lead among voters or the state's superdelegates, and Tuesday's contest is shaping up to be a tie-breaker.

A win for Obama might mark the end of the bruising primary battle. A Clinton victory could signal an epic convention fight.

For Obama, the state is full of promise and rife with potential pitfalls. Open primaries like Indiana's have sometimes given him a boost, thanks to crossover votes from Republicans and independents, and he has solid support from the state's black voters.

Huge surges in voter registration in river towns like Evansville and cities like Gary may also give him a boost, and volunteers from upstate college areas like Bloomington -- where voter registration is way up -- have fanned out across the state.

His organization was active in the state far earlier than Clinton's, and he has been endorsed by former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, a foreign policy heavyweight and member of the 9/11 Commission.

But many of the voters in the state's more conservative rural regions are solid Clinton backers. The New York senator can count on a major base of support among farmers in the southern part of the state, and autoworkers and steelworkers in the central and north who resent free-trade agreements that have led to job loss in cities like Muncie.

She's been stumping in Republican areas like Hamilton County, demographically similar to parts of Pennsylvania that supported her heavily a few weeks ago, and in Ohio last month. And Clinton boasts the backing of Indiana's most prominent Democrat, Sen. Evan Bayh, along with most of the party's state leadership.

She came into the spring with an edge in most surveys. But the two are in a statistical tie in the most recent CNN Poll of Polls, and neither has been able to take a commanding lead in the state.

Clinton has stressed her Midwestern roots in an effort to repeat her winning mix of working-class white voters, women and seniors. The Clinton family -- the New York senator; her husband, former President Clinton; and their daughter, Chelsea -- have made nearly 60 stops across the state, nearly three times as many as Obama.

But his campaign hit the airwaves in the state more than a month ago, and even with a last-minute $700,000 ad buy from a pro-Clinton political action committee, Obama's television presence has dwarfed hers in the state.

It's unclear how the latest controversy surrounding Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, will affect the race in Indiana.

Wright's incendiary comments at the National Press Club on Monday put the Chicago minister back in the spotlight. Obama strongly condemned the remarks Tuesday.

Some surveys suggest that Obama's relationship with Wright could hurt him with Indiana voters, but no polls have been published after the dramatic events of early this week, so attitudes may have changed.

And there are other wild cards. The United Auto Workers Union, whose support could prove decisive in industrial areas of the state, has not endorsed either Democrat.

The state's voter rolls have swelled by more than 150,000 this year, including a wave of new voters in black areas of Indianapolis and Gary. But it is uncertain whether the party machinery will be able to get those first-time registrants to the polls on Election Day.

And no one knows how a new Supreme Court ruling that allows election workers to require photo identification at the polls, a ruling that disproportionately affects minority and lower-class voters, may affect turnout. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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