President Barack Obama, the first Democrat to win Indiana in a presidential election in four decades, could find it tough to hold on to in 2012 even if Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels decides not to enter the presidential race.
And a White House run by Daniels from a state that's recently become a showcase for conservatives could make a repeat victory by Obama impossible, one political expert said.
The president made a stop in Indiana on Friday to tout his energy policy, his fifth visit since taking office. Daniels met him on the tarmac at the Indianapolis airport, a meeting his Republican supporters hoped would foreshadow a matchup to come.
Obama defeated Sen. John McCain in Indiana by less than 30,000 votes in 2008. That victory gave Democrats their first presidential victory in the state since 1964 and positioned Indiana as a swing state. But that reputation may be short-lived, University of Evansville political science professor Robert Dion says.
"I think if Mitch Daniels did not run, the chances of Obama catching lightning in a bottle twice are slim," Dion said. If Daniels wins the Republican primary, he said, Obama's chances "go from slim to none."
Strong turnouts from Democratic strongholds like Lake and Marion counties, spurred by a major investment of time and money from the Obama campaign, dovetailed with a national political backlash against Republicans that year to carry Obama in Indiana in 2008 _ and even that was a tough win, Dion said. Obama is unlikely to spend that kind of time and money in Indiana again regardless of Daniels' decision, he said.
While Daniels has not said if he will run for president, he said an East Coast swing through New York, Baltimore and Washington earlier this week unearthed a "diverse" group of people urging him to run. He has said he will make a decision "within weeks."
Daniels wouldn't say this week what he planned to say to Obama at the airport. While the two have met occasionally in Washington, including at the Gridiron Dinner two months ago, the brief interaction Friday was the first time since Obama became president that Daniels had welcomed him to Indiana in person. He did not attend the event at the Allison Transmission plant, where Obama saw how heavy-duty hybrid transmission systems are being crafted.
The crowd there was full of Obama supporters _ no surprise, given that it was packed with union members and that the plant received close to $63 million from Obama's Energy Department.
Greg King of Zionsville said he voted for both politicians in 2008 _ Obama for president and Daniels for governor. If the two faced each other in 2012, he'd go with Obama.
King, 45, said Daniels has changed his tone since he began eyeing a run for the White House. In particular, his decision to strip funding for Planned Parenthood was a strategic play, King said.
"It was a political move to get conservative support, and I'm not real happy about that," King said.
Daniels this week signed into law the nation's broadest school voucher program and another measure that aims to expand charter schools, both of which are key issues for conservatives. He also recently signed a measure curtailing the breadth of teacher's collective bargaining rights.
A pair of plant workers _ Brian Beard, 54 of Carmel, and John Morrow, 57 of Greenwood _ said they voted for John McCain in 2008, but were unsure if they would vote for a Republican again next year. A hypothetical entry by Daniels did not change their mind.
"It's a toss-up," Morrow said. "We don't agree with some of the things Mitch has done to the teachers, we think the teachers and the police ought to be well-paid."