Indiana 8th District
“Evansville,” wrote John Bartlow Martin in 1947, “is the capital of a tri-state area comprising the neglected tag ends of Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.” It was a factory town then, making car parts and refrigerators, drawing workers from Kentucky, Tennessee, and the picturesque but not very fertile hills of southern Indiana. Today, Evansville has become the headquarters for a number of midsize companies that offer many high-paying, skilled jobs. Car parts still get made here, though it is auto assembly that helps anchor the local manufacturing economy. Toyota in 1998 opened a plant in nearby Princeton that builds SUVs and minivans, employing approximately 4,500 workers who take home as much as $28 an hour. It has seen hard times, such as the terrible flood of March 1997 and a November 2005 tornado that killed 24 people, but it also has Indiana’s first riverboat casino and claims to have the nation’s second-largest street festival, second only to New Orleans’s Mardi Gras celebration. In 2008, construction began on the long-discussed Interstate 69 extension from Evansville to Indianapolis, which one local official said was “40 years too late.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Evansville is one of two major centers of the 8th Congressional District, which covers most of southwest and west-central Indiana. The other, in Vigo County, is Terre Haute, an old manufacturing town and the boyhood home of socialist Eugene Debs. It hosts a maximum-security penitentiary, which includes the only federal death chamber; Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed there in 2001. In 2008, Pfizer closed a local plant that had employed about 800 workers producing the insulin drug Exubera. The district also takes in Vincennes, now a small town on the banks of the Wabash River but once a major metropolis. Downstream is New Harmony, established by Scottish philanthropist and visionary Robert Owen. His son was the first congressman from the area, elected in 1842 and 1844. Southern Indiana is ancestrally Democratic, just as northern Indiana is ancestrally Republican. These southern counties were hostile to Union during the Civil War. In New Deal times, workers in Evansville again moved toward the Democrats.
The result has been a very close political balance, and this district has become known as the “Bloody 8th” for its tight congressional races. At one point in the 1970s, it sent four different members to the House in four successive elections. In 1984, the state certified the Republican as the winner by exactly 34 votes. The Democratic majority in the U.S. House overturned the result, however, in a fight that left many Republican members bitterly aggrieved. Since then, the district has been as fiercely contested as ever. The trend in presidential politics, however, is away from national Democrats. Bill Clinton twice carried the 8th by a 2% margin, George W. Bush won it with 56% in 2000, and again in 2004 with 62%. After campaigning there vigorously, Barack Obama won Vanderburgh and Vigo counties, but he narrowly lost the district, 51%-47%.