Not since 1964 have two Hoosiers running for the U.S. Senate lived farther apart.
Democrat Joe Donnelly is a resident of Granger, which hugs the Michigan line north of South Bend. Republican Richard Mourdock dwells 264 miles southwest in Darmstadt, a stones throw across Evansville to the Ohio River.
The distance is only about six miles shy of the gap in 1964, when Democratic Sen. Vance Hartke of Evansville defeated Republican challenger D. Russell Bontrager, a state senator from Elkhart. Think of it this way: Mourdocks hometown is as close to Alabama as it is to Granger. Or this way: Donnelly can drive to Davenport, Iowa, in less time than he can reach Darmstadt.
Indianas flat north and hilly south can seem worlds apart. Thanks to wind and water vapor whipping off Lake Michigan, about 70 inches of snow fall on Donnellys St. Joseph County home in an average winter, or 4 feet more than on Mourdocks house in Vanderburgh County, according to climate data from various sources.
But the Evansville area sweats through about 40 days of 90-degree weather each summer, compared with a dozen such sweltering days for the South Bend area.
Both communities are small, largely white and affluent. The poverty rate for Granger is 2.4 percent; it is 0.9 percent for Darmstadt.
At one time, geography played a significant role in Indianas political landscape, said Ray Scheele, co-director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University. He noted that Republican Mitch Daniels, in 2004, became the first Indiana governor in more than a century who had lived extensively in Indianapolis.
There used to be the old idea in Indiana that wed never elect a governor from Indianapolis, because Indianapolis has everything, and by God, theyre not going to have the governor, too. Scheele said with a chuckle.
But today, Scheele said, people really dont vote according to where a person lives. The electorate is much better informed now. They listen to the messages through the mass media, the Internet and the new media. The geographically balanced ticket is less and less important.
Case in point: Of the five Indiana Republicans seeking statewide elective office in November, all hail from southern Indiana. And of the five Democratic candidates, only Donnelly resides north of Carmel, an Indianapolis suburb.
Yet both Senate candidates can treat Indianapolis as a hub. Mourdock, the two-term state treasurer who defeated six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary election, has a second home there. And as Indianas 2nd District congressman, Donnelly can hop a jet from Washington, D.C., to Indianapolis during congressional breaks.
Each candidate has a campaign headquarters in Indianapolis.
The field campaign will be setting up regional offices in each of the nine congressional districts in the next month or so, including a physical presence in Fort Wayne, Elizabeth Shappell, communications director for Donnellys campaign, said in an email.
Mourdock campaign spokesman Chris Conner said Mourdock, GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence and the Indiana Republican Party plan to share nine offices across the state, including one in Fort Wayne.
Campaigning statewide is easier today than when Paul Helmke, then Fort Waynes mayor, was the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in 1998. Social media, smartphones, GPS devices and cable TV saturation had yet to pervade politics during his campaign against Democrat Evan Bayh.
When I ran, Fort Wayne was the only place I could call home. Its tough when youre from one of the corners of the state, Helmke said.
He recalled that an Indianapolis TV station once sent a crew to the Summit City to interview him but couldnt transmit the live broadcast signal back to the states biggest media market.
Helmke lost the election to Bayh, who had spent the previous decade in Indianapolis as governor and secretary of state.
Helmke recalled traveling the state that year by car, bus and small plane, juggling changes in time zones and scanning the horizon for an antenna tower that would lead him to a scheduled interview at a rural radio station.
A lot of miles between populated areas sometimes, he said. All of a sudden the toilet is backing up on the bus. Youre going down roads that are under construction and you have to back up for a detour. Its not the excitement its portrayed to be.
But, he added, its good to get around and see things and meet people. I always enjoyed that part.
Shappell said Donnelly can relate to the logistical challenges.
Joe often will be in the car late into the night or get on the road very early in the morning in order to stay at his home in St. Joe County as much as his schedule allows, she said.
One time on a country road in Grant County, Joe had his staffer driving the car pull over because there was a big snapping turtle in the road, blocking their way, Shappell said. The turtle refused to move out of the road, so Joe prodded him off the road with a stick and a cardboard box in order to be on time getting to the next event.
Conner called Mourdock the ultimate road warrior in this, his third statewide campaign.
Richard is probably as close as it comes to being a human compass and seems to know all the back roads of Indiana, which has served him well in getting to the know places and people of Indiana, Conner said in an email.
The campaign staff must remember that northwest and southwest Indiana are on Central Time and to carry phone chargers, mobile GPS devices and paper maps on car trips.
You can never have too many copies of the schedule with you; they always seem to get misplaced when traveling, he said.
Although a licensed pilot, Mourdock no longer flies, Conner said, and he rarely uses a plane when campaigning in the state.