The 8—or 3?—political states of Indiana
Plus: Pete Buttigieg's Indiana return + Todd Young's Conference Committee moment.
As a native Buckeye and naturalized Hoosier, I have an immigrant’s love for—and curiosity about—our state.
I grew up in hilly Northwest Ohio, home to that state’s highest point, and at the base of Mad River Mountain, which is, as you may suspect, not really a mountain. When I traveled a few hours or so to Marion, Indiana, for college, I was struck by the yawning flatness of the land, and just how far I could see over the horizon.
That flatness is a defining characteristic of the state’s political structure, too, I’ve learned: Unlike the machine politics operating out of our neighboring Illinois, where those in power famously don’t want nobody nobody sent, Indiana, for the most part, embraces outsiders. You can come here and build something without longstanding connections. Perhaps it’s the state’s lingering pioneer spirit that makes it so.
At a certain point in my life, the hills of my Ohio permanently receded into my rearview mirror, and the flat fields of central Indiana became home. And ever since I first registered to vote here, sometime back in 2008, if memory serves, I’ve been fascinated not only with the state’s physical geography—Indiana was settled from the south to the north, and Indianapolis is the largest major U.S. city that's not located on a navigable river—but its political geography, too.
The Washington Post journalist Dave Weigel once observed that there are “six political states of Michigan”: The Upper Peninsula, North, West Middle, Thumb, Detroit Burbs, and Detroit. And there are said to be “five Ohios,” according to the journalist David Giffels in his book Barnstorming Ohio:
“(1 ) the densely populated, urban, industrial/post-industrial Northeast; (2) the rural, agricultural, more culturally “midwestern” Northwest; (3) the central region whose epicenter is state capital Columbus, a growing, modern city defined (and in some ways divided) by government and the huge Ohio State University campus as well as prosperous exurbs; (4) the more sparsely populated, more Appalachain Southeast; and (5) the conservative, souther-influenced Southwest, anchored by Cincinnati, which abuts the Ohio River and which I often refer to as the largest city in Kentucky.”
As Republican and Democratic candidates traverse the state in the coming weeks ahead of our May primary, all of this got me wondering: How many distinct political states does Indiana have?
Most respondents to my Twitter query argued Indiana had anywhere from four to eight distinct political districts—notwithstanding its nine congressional districts (one person argued it had only three regions—coal, concrete, corn—nevermind The Region in Northwest Indiana’s nation-leading steel production).
Largely, the map below seemed to resonate the most with folks:
Like Ohio, Indiana’s various political states are defined by what their regions are not. Michiana, which includes South Bend and Elkhart, isn’t quite Michigan. Kentuckiana, along the Ohio River, isn’t quite Kentucky. And also like Ohio, Indiana has a progressive, diverse capital city in Indianapolis, and affluent surrounding suburbs; and the Southern part of the state is defined by its bordering of Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley.
As Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who crisscrossed the state during Indiana's epic 1968 Democratic presidential primary 54 years ago, wrote in The Year of the People: “In northern Indiana … people seemed worried about the prospect of being taken over by Chicago. In the south, they were threatened by Kentucky, in the west, by Illinois, in the east, Ohio. It was as though in Indiana they have to think ‘Indiana’ for fear that if they do not it will be absorbed by the outside world.”
In the course of my reading, I became convinced by the historian Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of America that the state’s political geography probably more neatly fits into three regions: Yankeedom, The Midlands, and Greater Appalachia.
Yankeedom. Yankeedom is marked by a group of descendants of largely middle-class Puritans who were skeptical of governance and embraced lower-case “r” republicanism. In some ways, Indiana’s broad embrace of the principle of local control derives from its connection to Yankeedom. “More than any other group in America,” Woodard writes, “Yankees conceive of government as being run by and for themselves.”
The Midlands. Of the rival nations, Woodard writes that this section of Indiana “is the most prototypically American,” as it pressed westward “across a vast swath of the American heartland.” It is, he argues, “middle America, the most mainstream of the continene’s national cultures and, for much of our history, the kingmaker in national political contests.” When you hear a Hoosier politician use the phrase “Hoosier Common Sense,” they are most likely appealing to this group. Much of central Indiana’s Quaker roots are attributable to this culture. An immigration wave of German-speaking peoples in this swath of the country also gave us the schnitzel sandwich, what we call the fried pork tenderloin. Both the Quakers and Germans opposed slavery, giving the majority of the state its Union bent.
Greater Appalachia. Whenever you hear Indiana described as “the middle finger of the South thrust into the North,” a statement attributed to Morton Marcus, the Indiana economist, or that Indiana is the “northernmost southern state,” the sentiment captures its presence among those states connected to Greater Appalachia.
For Politico Magazine in 2018, I wrote of this part of the state:
Much of the southwest part of the state is filled with the descendants of “Copperheads” and “Butternuts,” white voters with ancestors who opposed Gov. Oliver Morton’s efforts to support the Union in the Civil War. (Butternut, in this case, is a nod to the walnut-dyed “homespun clothing” they wore, according to a paper by Dr. James A. Fuller, a professor of history at the University of Indianapolis.)
Here’s how Woodard envisions those regions aligning across Indiana:
While I’d argue that Woodard’s Midlands extend farther southward to encompass Indianapolis and that Greater Appalachia actually begins South of U.S. 40, I think those three rival cultural influences tidily capture the dynamics at play in Indiana.
Interestingly, Pete Buttigieg, in his memoir Shortest Way Home, once used three county fair foods to categorize the state.
There is an invisible line that goes on a northeasterly slant across the northern third of our state. North of it, the preferred fair food is pork burgers; south, it’s chicken. Cross another line into the southern third of the state and the fare is typically schnitzel, only you call it pork tenderloin. (If you are going to use ethnic meat names, you’d better know what you’re doing—once in South Bend, I saw a visiting politician from a German-settled downstate city take the mic at a sausage-intensive Polish festival and make the mistake of praising the “bratwurst” instead of the “kielbasa,” and the air went out of the room for a second.)
How many political regions do you think Indiana has?
Happy Sunday, and welcome back to IMPORTANTVILLE. Another Hoosier is running for president—fictionally, at least. His name is Mike Prince, and he was forged on the courts of New Castle High School and was once Indiana’s Mr. Basketball. For Indianapolis Monthly, I interviewed the showrunner of Showtime’s Billions about the best Hoosier character on prestige television right now. The sixth-season finale airs tonight.
Sen. Todd Young will tour southern Indiana on Monday. Per his office: “The day will begin in Jeffersonville, where Senator Young will meet with business leaders and participate in a discussion about the state of the economy. Young will then travel to Charlestown, where he will present Henryville resident Gary Prather with a number of medals for his service in Vietnam. Finally, Young will visit the Hillel Center at Indiana University to speak with students about the importance of confronting antisemitism and ending hate.”
Young was also selected to serve as a conferee on the forthcoming conference committee to continue the debate on the China competitiveness bill.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s first official trip to Indiana as a Cabinet Secretary will be a visit to Tell City on Wednesday, according to his office. A spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb told IMPORTANTVILLE Friday he did not have immediate plans to attend the event, which is expected to highlight the bipartisan infrastructure law.
Holcomb celebrated 50 days until the Indy 500 by sending Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson some milk.
Rep. Jim Banks welcomed former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Indiana for a fundraiser and congressional endorsement.
THE IMPORTANTVILLE GREENROOM: Whitley Yates, Indiana GOP Director of Diversity & Engagement
A semi-regular section, featuring a political staffer or lobbyist you should know.
You spent part of your youth in the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home. How did that experience shape your political philosophy as a Republican?
Moving from inner-city Indianapolis to the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home was a transformational experience for me. It was The Home that taught me many of the life skills that I value to this day.
Summer was spent at Camp Atterbury and Christmas was spent with the American Legion, and it was in these environments where my reverence and respect for the military and law enforcement were cemented. It was at The Home where I was taught how to hunt and how to handle a rifle, experiences that solidified my support for the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment. And growing up away from family made me value it, even more.
All of these experiences have shaped my views and political philosophy.
How did you get into politics?
I was first introduced to politics while studying at Indiana University Bloomington, where I was president of my residence hall and led our board of governors. It was through that position that I became a member of the General Assembly of the Residence Halls Association helped bridge the gap between the student body and the IU Administration. During my time there I also worked to successfully elect the third Black student body president.
After graduating, I traveled for work and my passion for politics grew. I came to realize that politics wasn’t a “spectator sport,” and that in order to be an advocate for real change, I needed to do more than just discuss the issues and instead actively work toward solutions.
Last month, you won the RNC's Emerging Leader Award, as part of the Black Republican Trailblazers reception. What was that experience like?
It was a humbling experience.
Being in this position and gaining that recognition from the Republican National Committee for the work Chairman Kyle Hupfer and the Indiana Republican Party is doing in our state was truly an honor. And the fact that I did so next to Virginia Lt. Governor Winsome Sears and Bob Woodson was something I’ll never forget. I am blessed to have the support of the RNC and Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel as we continue our journey here in the Hoosier state.
The RNC is stepping up efforts nationwide to appeal to Black voters, opening up community centers that are designed to help with candidate recruitment and voter outreach, and committing $2 million last year. What do you make of that effort, based on your experience over the last two years with the Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series? What do you make of that effort, based on your experience over the last two years with the Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series?
I am excited to see these intentional investments being made across the nation.
The ability to build non-transactional relationships, provide resources, and help voters get connected on all levels is pivotal for our outreach. Through these investments and creating opportunities to connect and build common ground, our country will only grow stronger; our Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series directly supports this effort.
What have been the biggest measurable successes of the Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series? Are there signs that it is working?
Measuring impact is vital to our progress and we’ve seen this impact in a variety of ways.
I have traveled across the state with members of the IRDLS advisory committee and series participants putting on workshops. And through these, and a broader sphere of influence, we were able to create a scholarship for a seven-year-old victim of gun violence in South Bend, Ind. This scholarship, available to minority students, has created a synergy among local and national businesses and members of the community to continue to support it and other initiatives like it.
Our series participants are serving on local, state, and nonprofit boards; they are engaged in their local Republican Party, attending local events and running for office and delegate; they are creating new coalitions and reviving old ones; they are becoming community leaders.
It is this impact that has led the IRDLS to become a national model.
What Black Hoosier Republican candidates or up-and-comers can fellow GOPers get excited about?
Across the state, diversity is thriving among Republican candidates. We have Black candidates running for Congress, the statehouse, county commission, mayor, sheriff, auditor, and more; we have immigrants running; we have members of the LGBTQ+ community running; we have more and more women running. Hoosier Republicans should be excited about how our party is growing.
As Republicans, we do not tend to lead with identifying characteristics like this, as we believe our ideas should take precedent. Our party’s brand of hard work, great policy, and results are what we put forward for voters to focus on.
When she was last in Indianapolis, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel joked about hiring you away from Indiana. Do you have national ambitions?
I would be honored to work on the national level, and I am open to whatever God has planned for my life. I always want to make sure that I move with purpose and not in search of prominence. I believe that this ensures my dedication to the career.
You're parenting and in law school right now and working a full-time job. What's that like?
It is like running a marathon ... with the course constantly changing. It is sometimes hard to muster up the motivation, but I know it will all be worth the sacrifice. It is important to show my daughter that investing in education is a worthy feat. I of course have to be very cognizant of how I spend my time and remember self-care.
What's a recent book or show you couldn't put down/stop?
I recently read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is my hope to enact these four agreements daily in my life and hopefully instill them in my daughters.
What's your favorite thing about Indiana?
My favorite thing about Indiana is the variations of cultures and experiences that represent all 92 counties. From spending time in Gary, Indiana, to more recently Terre Haute, each town has something unique to offer, and I love learning about the history of counties.
Big stories about Hoosiers and Indiana issues that move the needle.
“For Democrats, flipping red states is hard. Ask this state chair,” by Dan Balz in The Washington Post
Over coffee recently, Schmuhl talked about the challenges — and realities — of trying to restore the strength of a state party that once boasted elected officials such as the late Birch Bayh, who served in the Senate and ran for president; his son Evan Bayh, who was both governor and senator; Frank O’Bannon, who served as governor; and, most recently, Joe Donnelly, who was senator from 2013 until 2019. Donnelly’s victory in 2012 was the last year any Indiana Democrat won a statewide contest. Indiana’s current political complexion is best represented as being the home of former vice president Mike Pence.
Flashback: “Pete Buttigieg's 38-year-old ex-campaign manager and childhood pal is telling Democrats how they can win back rural America”
“Trump video from Kid Rock's Evansville Indiana kickoff concert goes viral,” by John T. Martin in the Evansville Courier & Press
Former President Donald Trump made an appearance — of a sort — in southern Indiana last week.
Kid Rock kicked off his latest concert tour Wednesday at Evansville's Ford Center. The thousands of fans on hand were greeted with a video of Trump, one of the rocker's most well-known golfing partners.
The former president's video message has gone viral, with more than half a million views, since it was posted to TikTok by a concert attendee.
"Hello everyone, I love you all," Trump says in the clip, which preceded the show's first guitar licks. "You're going to have a great time at the Kid Rock concert tonight. Quite frankly, he's amazing. All of you in attendance are the true backbone of our great country: hard-working, God-fearing, rock 'n roll patriots."
“State Department: WH gift records for Trump, Pence missing,” by Associated Press's Matthew Lee
The State Department says it is unable to compile a complete and accurate accounting of gifts presented to former President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials by foreign governments during Trump’s final year in office, citing missing data from the White House.
In a report to be published in the Federal Register next week, the department says the Executive Office of the President did not submit information about gifts received by Trump and his family from foreign leaders in 2020. It also says the General Services Administration didn’t submit information about gifts given to former Vice President Mike Pence and White House staffers that year.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and subscribing.