DENVER – Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., hoped to arrive at the Democratic National Convention here under different circumstances.
Bayh, a former governor of Indiana, was one of three finalists in Sen. Barack Obama’s hunt for a running mate, raising his profile and underscoring the growing importance of Indiana in presidential politics.
Obama ended up picking Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice-presidential nominee. But Indiana delegates said Tuesday that Bayh will remain a presidential contender in the future and that there will be an intense battle between the Democratic ticket and Sen. John McCain and the Republicans over Indiana this fall.
“For years, it was a forgone conclusion that Indiana would go to the Republicans,” said Peter Mullen, a delegate and auditor for St. Joseph County in South Bend. “We were the first state in history to declare for a Republican, but people are saying maybe that won’t happen this year.”
Indiana’s electoral votes last went to a Democratic candidate in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson overwhelmingly defeated Barry Goldwater. The previous win in Indiana for the Democrats was in 1936.
Mullen, who carries with him a letter he got from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1960s, said voting patterns will shift dramatically for the first time in decades.
“The level of involvement got lower and lower,” he said, “but Sen. Obama’s entry into the race has generated tremendous interest in the system, particularly in young people.”
Bonnie Reese, the Indiana 1st District chair and a delegate at the convention, said she was happy with Indiana’s influence on a national stage.
Clinton added that Indiana is particularly suited to go Obama’s way in November because the state “has so many working people, and Obama will really resonate there.”
Indiana would have been even more prominent had Bayh been picked as Obama’s running mate, she said.
“I believe Evan was passed over because he’s too close in age to Sen. Obama,” Reese said, “but he’ll be back.”
Another delegate, Fay Allen of Jeffersonville, Ind., said Bayh is “still young” and “will be in the presidential race eight years from now.” Allen, an IU graduate, believes Indiana could go blue this year, citing a “special atmosphere.”
There are 85 Indiana delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and almost 4,500 delegates in total. Allen said it is “wonderful” to be a delegate and was surprised at the enthusiasm and pageantry of the first two days of the convention.
Likewise, Reese, who has been in politics for 45 years and is attending her first political convention, was excited to see some of the most prominent Democrats speaking.
“I was elected to come here as a delegate,” she said. “I’m a Hillary (Clinton) delegate, but we’re here to come together as a party.”
Reese, Allen and Mullen, along with the other nearly 4,500 delegates in attendance, will officially make Obama the Democratic nominee Wednesday during the “roll call,” where each state’s delegation will announce the number of votes apportioned to each candidate who ran for the nomination earlier this year.
Convention organizers are expected to take roll call from a few states before motioning to declare Obama the nominee by consensus.
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