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GOP sets sights on taking back Indiana

National official sees battleground

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INDIANAPOLIS — In 2008, Indiana Republicans experienced their first presidential loss in more than 40 years when Barack Obama carried the conservative state. In 2012, they are not about to let it happen again.

To return the state to the Republican column and nail it there, national party members say they plan to treat Indiana as if it were a long-standing battleground state. State Republicans hope to recreate the excitement that fired up underdog Indiana Democrats in 2008, when Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama campaigned extensively throughout the state in a lengthy primary battle that dragged through May, creating a buzz that lasted until the general election.

In contrast, Republican nominee Sen. John McCain largely took Indiana for granted, focusing his energy on the more-traditional battleground states. Mr. Obama won the state by a little more than 30,000 votes.

Now the state is crawling with GOP candidates. The state party has sponsored four presidential forums since August. Those events brought Republican candidates like pizza magnate Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. to Indiana and helped add 1,000 names to the party's email list, party spokesman Pete Seat said.

"It's nice that we're getting this kind of attention, it's creating interest in the election," Garry Petersen said last week, before listening to Mr. Perry speak to roughly 300 Republicans at the exclusive Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis, adding that this is the most attention Republican presidential candidates have paid the state since the early 1980s.

"Our responsibility is to take care of our backyard here and to make sure that Indiana is fired up. We have a network of folks that are willing to sacrifice their time and just make sure that Barack Obama is one and done," Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb said.

No Democrat had won Indiana since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, and that lopsided trend made both sides complacent until Mr. Obama's win in 2008.

To keep Indiana's reputation for producing conservative wins, the RNC plans to begin sending staffers and money to Indiana in the spring, said Rick Wiley, RNC political director. Republicans learned a hard lesson in Indiana in 2008 when they waited until after Mr. McCain's nomination had been locked up to begin organizing their campaign, he said.

"We're going to treat it as a battleground state. We're going to treat as though we're running behind in the state," Mr. Wiley said, though he would not elaborate on how much the national party plans to spend in the state or how many full-time staff they will pay for here.

For its part, the Obama campaign is touting a continued staff presence in Indiana that has been maintained since he took office. The re-election effort has maintained between two and four full-time staffers in Indiana since 2008, according to an Indiana Democratic source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Those staffers have been running phone banks and helping the state's Democratic mayoral candidates, the source said. The Obama campaign is running weekly phone banks from the state Democratic Party headquarters every Tuesday, according to the campaign website.

Mr. Obama's Indiana supporters say that, even if the president loses Indiana next year, they are optimistic the network they built in 2008 has scared Republicans enough to at least draw away resources from other battleground states.

"I think they better" campaign hard in Indiana, said Kip Tew, a former Indiana Democratic Party chairman who led Obama's Indiana efforts in 2008. "They didn't the last time and they lost, so they probably learned a lesson."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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