Presidential candidates lay groundwork for Indiana

Early voting began Tuesday across Indiana in advance of the May 3 primary election, one in which the state could hold more sway than usual in the presidential races for Democrats and Republicans.

The state's primary election generally comes after most states already have voted on presidential picks, but as the candidates vie for attention at the polls, they've started organizing in Indiana.

Here are some things to keep in mind during the month before the election, which also features races for Congress and various statewide offices:

Presidential bids

In the bitter 2008 Democratic primary battle between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Indiana got an intimate glimpse of presidential politics, with Obama shooting hoops in a Kokomo gym and Clinton aiming for working-class appeal by knocking back a shot of whiskey at northwest Indiana bar.

Now, Republicans will get a presidential moment of their own, says Mike Murphy, a former state lawmaker and Marion County GOP chairman, who notes tea party-backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich likely face an uphill fight against businessman Donald Trump.

"The Hoosier profile matches pretty closely with the profile of national Trump supporters: high school-educated white males who have seen the economy pass them by," said Murphy, who supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Trump and Kasich each have hired Indiana campaign workers.

For Democrats, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has opened eight offices across the state, and Clinton has hired staff and opened and Indianapolis office.

Struggle for Senate seat

The upcoming retirement of Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats has spawned an increasingly hostile intraparty battle between U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young.

Though they were both elected in 2010 and have campaigned as stalwart conservatives on similar platforms, they've turned on each other as the race enters its final stretch. Young is trying to paint his tea party-backed rival as an ideologue who prioritizes obstructionism over passing legislation, while Stutzman has characterized Young as a pawn of the establishment at a time when Americans are increasingly frustrated with "a system that benefits a few people."

Meanwhile, their open congressional seats are drawing a lot of interest. In Stutzman's deeply Republican district near Fort Wayne, state Sens. Jim Banks and Liz Brown, as well as retired doctor Pam Galloway and businessman Kip Tom are in the running.

Young's southern Indiana district, which encompasses Bloomington, pits Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller, GOP state Sens. Erin Houchin and Brent Waltz against one another. Wealthy businessman Trey Hollingsworth, who until recently lived in Tennessee, also created a splash after he moved to Indiana, entered the race and loaned and donated nearly $700,000 to his own campaign. A super PAC supporting him called "Indiana Jobs Now" has run a series of brutal ads attacking Zoeller while declaring Hollingsworth the "the only conservative outsider."

Monroe County Council member Shelli Yoder, an instructor at Indiana University and the 1992 Miss Indiana, is running for the Democratic Party nomination. She lost to Young in the 2012 general election for the 9th District.

High turnout

State officials are warning Indiana's 92 counties to prepare for voter turnout that could approach levels set in the 2008 Democratic primary, when Clinton narrowly defeated Obama.

"We have urged the counties, who will do the lion's share of the work, to plan for as large a volume as possible when it comes to voter registration, absentee ballots and voter turnout on election day," said Brad King, Republican co-director of the bipartisan Indiana Election Division.

King said the state has increasingly embraced new technology to minimize problems that can arise when heightened voter participation creates an equally large amount of paperwork. Increasingly, counties are leaving behind a restrictive precinct-based system and switching "voting centers" that are set up in convenient locations and open to all who want to cast a ballot.

And some counties have developed apps that show which voting centers have the shortest wait time, officials said.

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