Senator Lugar may have been defeated in the Republican Senate primary last spring, but his supporters will make the difference in the tight race between Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock and popular Congressman Joe Donnelly.
The latest poll has Donnelly ahead by 2 points with 7% for Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning. In a state President Obama won by one point in 2008, but George Bush took by 20 in 2004, the GOP candidate should be doing much better.
But Lugar supporters have not embraced Mourdock, nor are many likely to vote for him. Lugar attracted a lot of moderates and Democrats as he routinely ran up 70% majorities in his races. Mourdock may have energized the conservative base, but his brand of tea party conservatism hasn’t caught on with many outside of the Republican base.
Mourdock has been hit by Democrats attacking his “extreme” Tea Party movement views – lower taxes, fewer regulations and massive spending cuts – plus his televised remarks after the primary that “bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
“It wasn’t easy for a lot of Hoosiers to see Lugar defeated after a slashing campaign,” said Marjorie Hershey, a politics professor at the University of Indiana, using the term Indiana natives call themselves. “Mourdock didn’t help himself after the primary by taking a very hard line.”
“It’s always tough when your man gets beat,” said Mike Missi, 58, a volunteer for the Mourdock campaign who has encountered a number of unhappy Lugar supporters.
“But if they’re true Republicans they need to vote for Mourdock,” added Missi, who was waiting for his candidate to speak to volunteers in the picturesque town of Jeffersonville on Wednesday. “And they will if they care about this country.”
Mourdock, gently spoken and affable, made brief remarks about the need to “get America running again. We’ve tried the Democratic way and it’s failed and failed and failed.”
In an interview, Mourdock said he was “willing to work with anyone who wants to make government more efficient” and said his opponent is a liberal “claiming to be a moderate.”
He said he is reaching out to Lugar supporters, but “the bigger prize is independent voters.”
Senator Lugar will not be actively supporting Mourdock, a consequence of the bitter primary between the two. As a result, many of Lugar’s former supporters have turned their back on the GOP candidate and are supporting Horning or Donnelly. The Congressman is pro-life, pro-gun, and many of his other positions are closer to GOP orthodoxy than that of his Democratic colleagues. But his vote for Obamacare is working against him as his support for President Obama.
Mourdock has energized conservatives in the state and can expect a huge turnout of the base. If Romney can win the state by 15 points or more, and if some of those supporting the Libertarian Horning can be convinced to come home and vote Republican, that may be enough to put Mourdock over the top.
Either way, it is going to be a close one in Indiana on election night.