Indiana 2nd District
When the University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842, Catholics were still a rarity in most of America and certainly rare on the limestone-bottomed plains of northern Indiana. This was still farm country and South Bend no more than a crossroads on the St. Joseph River. But by the 1920s, both the school and the town had grown. Notre Dame, thanks to its football team, the Fighting Irish, was the most famous Catholic university in the land, and South Bend was a significant industrial city, home of Studebaker and Bendix and dozens of other factories. In the past 50 years, Notre Dame has grown in size and reputation, but South Bend, like many Rust Belt cities, diminished in size and reputation. In the 1960s, Studebaker went out of business. In the early 1980s, there were massive factory layoffs, and in the early 1990s, there were well-publicized layoffs in nearby Elkhart. But these high-visibility job losses were accompanied by the much less visible creation of jobs in small factories throughout the region. The work in those facilities required more skill than did the old assembly lines, and the products had to be more responsive to just-in-time prime contractors or computer-inventory retailers. In the late 1990s, many employers had trouble filling job openings, and the economic base was more secure than when it depended on the fate of two or three big companies. Notre Dame recently acquired the Midwestern Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, which in conjunction with other topflight colleges in the country, is doing research into the building blocks of the next generation of computers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Indiana is centered on South Bend, which for three decades has seen plenty of close congressional contests. This is an industrial and ethnic city, with one of the nation’s largest percentage of Hungarian-Americans, plus a growing community of Mexican-Americans. It is strongly Democratic, as is LaPorte County around Michigan City. Also in the district is Kokomo, which has been trying to grow as an auto manufacturing center with plans for a new Chrysler plant. Those plans were jeopardized by the 2008 financial crisis in the domestic automobile market.
Elkhart County to the east is heavily Republican and conservative. There was a six-foot Ten Commandments monument in front of Elkhart City Hall until a 2005 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union led to its removal. The 2nd District also includes several counties on the limestone plains to the south down past the Wabash River. This is an area rural in appearance but with much small manufacturing; politically, it has been part of the Republican heartland since the party was created in the 1850s. Indiana Democrats in 2002 drew the lines of the 2nd to maximize their chance to hold it by excluding much of heavily Republican Elkhart County, by including Democratic Michigan City, and by adding the industrial town of Kokomo at its southern edge. But it took four years to elect a Democrat, in 2006. In recent presidential contests, George W. Bush won the 2nd District with 53% in 2000 and 56% in 2004. Barack Obama won it with 54%.