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February 24, 2013

HOWEY: Moving up Indiana’s primary election

ANDERSON — In April 2008, Hillary Clinton made a campaign appearance at the Wigwam in Anderson. About two hours before she took the stage, a huge line of thousands of people encircled the historic basketball gym, waiting to get in.

A few weeks later, just hours before this historic Indiana presidential primary, more than 25,000 people jammed the American Legion Mall in downtown Indianapolis to hear Barack Obama on a rainy night.

By the time of Obama's historic victory in Indiana that November, there were about 150 presidential-level appearances by Obama and Clinton, by John McCain, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and Bill and Chelsea Clinton. The Hoosier political junkies had not seen anything like it since the 1968 primary involving Robert F. Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy and Gov. Roger Branigin.

Earlier this month, Craig Dunn, Howard County Republican chairman, told me, “We've got to move up the Indiana presidential primary.”

The reason is clear: Millions of dollars from the Obama and Clinton campaigns spilled into the state. They opened close to 50 regional offices. More than 200,000 new voters were registered. Primary turnout went from 21% in 2004 to 39% in 2008. Obama spent about $1 million in the week before the primary. Slate Magazine totaled up the Indiana experience:  Hillary Clinton, 37 stops in the state, 14 days spent (2.64 stops per day); Barack Obama, 25 stops in the state, 16 days spent (1.56 stops per day).

The 2008 presidential race totaled $2.4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Obama and McCain spent more than $1 billion together.

What is keeping Indiana from moving up the presidential primary calendar? The short answer is the Indiana General Assembly, where numerous legislative leaders have balked over the years at having to campaign while in session. Yet, a legislator facing a primary challenge cannot raise money during the session, and is severely crimped from a scheduling standpoint after the session ends.

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