Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Indiana U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Indiana U.S. Senate

August 7, 2012
91 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Tea Party sympathizers across the country were by and large celebrating the results of May's Indiana Republican Primary. When all is said and done, that is more likely than not going to be worth it for them as the Hoosier State could send a more staunch conservative to the U.S. Senate. However, those types have gambled wrong in Senate primaries before, only to see seats that should have been won go on to be lost. My hunch is that will not happen this year and in this state, but if Republicans are to hold this seat, it will be a lot closer and require more resources than would have otherwise been the case if the primary results did not produce what would have once been a highly unlikely upset.

Republican Richard Lugar now finds himself a lame duck at the age of 80 after having been soundly defeated in the primary by Tea Party backed Richard Mourdock, Indiana's elected State Treasurer. Lugar, who had once been considered "Richard Nixon's Favorite Mayor" back home in Indiana is currently the senior Republican in the U.S. Senate, having first been elected in 1976, and would have been in position to become Senate President Pro Tempore. Once, one of the most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill, Lugar, who unsuccessfully sought the Presidency in 1996, saw himself become more and more disliked by those on the right as his voting record (while never coming close to being a liberal) became more and more moderate. In the 2008 campaign, Lugar's Senate colleague Barack Obama frequently described him as a Republican ally and proof of his flimsy bipartisan bona fides in the Senate. During those times, Lugar was sometimes mentioned as a potential Republican Cabinet inclusion for Obama and while that never came to pass, Lugar, a political institution at home, seemed to do nothing in 2008 to prevent Obama from ultimately carrying the state by a narrow margin.

In the past few years, Lugar has voted against Obamacare and various other legislative priorities for the Administration, but many believed he could be vulnerable to a strong Republican challenge. When Mourdock got into the race though, Lugar was still considered the favorite and polling seemed to back it up. The conventional wisdom for some time was that Lugar would have to sweat to win the primary, but would ultimately prevail and then go on to easily win a general election for a final term.

However, Lugar ran a very poor primary campaign, despite having establishment GOP support in the state, and seemed to take Mourdock lightly, until it was too late. The challenger eventually ran even with the incumbent in the polls and then surpassed him, as the bottom fell out for Lugar who would lose the primary by over 20 points. The Tea Party (and many others in the Indiana GOP) had spoken and they had voted for a change. In his concession remarks, Lugar briefly mentioned that he wanted Republicans to re-take the Senate majority and thus would hope for a Mourdock win, but it was clear that it was a bitter defeat for the long-time Senator and it is unlikely he is going to do too much to help Mourdock in the general election campaign.

The Democrats have nominated a credible candidate, which gives them some hope they could flip a Senate seat because of the GOP primary results, but Congressman Joe Donnelly has to be at least a slight underdog at this point and with the DSCC perhaps more interested in trying to protect vulnerable incumbents and open seats of their own, Donnelly is probably going to need to hope for some kind of Mourdock gaffe or mistake to pull off an upset for his party.

Donnelly has an impressive political background of having knocked off a GOP House incumbent (on his second run for the job) in 2006 and then hanging for two more terms, including in the strong Republican year of 2010 when he defeated a good opponent. After that election, Donnelly's district was re-drawn to make it even more Republican leaning and he figured it would be more worth his time to run statewide than face an even tougher rematch with his 2010 opponent for a House seat. Donnelly likely held out hope that Lugar would either retire or be defeated in a primary, as he would have been little more than a sacrificial lamb against the incumbent, whom the Democrat Party did not even put a candidate up against in 2006.

The Democrat's nominee surely got his wish when Lugar went down big-time in the primary, and immediately started trying to appeal to moderates and independents in the state who had supported Lugar, but Mourdock is not exactly a political novice, having twice won statewide before and demonstrating significant political strength by his large margin over Lugar. None of this is to say that Mourdock is the most exciting politician to ever live or is incapable of campaign mistakes, such as how his team mistakenly filmed a series of responses the candidate filmed ahead of time to the Supreme Court Obamacare decision that somehow got leaked online before the ruling.

The only polls done on this race show a virtual dead heat. The most recent, done by Rasmussen Reports, has Mourdock ahead by just two points, with plenty of undecideds up for grabs. Both sides will try to paint the other as ideologically out of step with the State of Indiana, but unlike 2008, Republicans look like they may take the state on the Presidential level without an extreme amount of difficulty, and thus, Mitt Romney's coattails, along with a more motivated and energized Tea Party volunteer base for Mourdock is more likely to win him the race. The vote that Donnelly cast in favor of the unpopular Obamacare bill in Congress is going to be a particularly hard one for him to finesse.

When all is said and done, Mourdock is probably going to defeat Donnelly by about five or six points on Election Day. It will matter little to his supporters that Lugar would have probably won by over 20 points. In taking on a once invincible Hoosier political figure, Richard Mourdock found himself in the right place and the right time.

Mourdock campaign link:


2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 5 D, 2 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 35 D, 39 R