Indiana Senate: From "Likely Republican" to "Toss Up"

Kate Hicks

10/19/2012 5:40:00 PM - Kate Hicks

In the battle for the U.S. Senate, Indiana’s matchup of Republican Richard Mourdock with Democrat Rep. Joe Donnelly is too close to call. Just last week, RealClearPolitics moved it from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up.” For all intents and purposes, the polls are deadlocked, averaging out to 40.5% for Mourdock and 39.25% for Donnelly.

Furthermore, there’s an awkward factor hampering Mourdock: the man he’s seeking to replace. He defeated current Senator Richard Lugar by a wide margin in the primary, and as can be imagined, the would’ve-been incumbent isn’t exactly sweet on the man who unseated him. Furthermore, Mourdock prevailed in the primary by attacking the more moderate Lugar from the right. He’s a tea party favorite, but Lugar’s middle-of-the-road supporters haven’t exactly been flocking to Mourdock in droves.

The defeat didn’t appear to sit well with Lugar. In his concession speech, the senator expressed hope that Mourdock “prevails in November” in order to help Republicans take back the majority. But he never stumped for the his onetime opponent. And in September, he confirmed that he had no intention to campaign for the man who defeated him.

Lugar and Mourdock are very different Republicans. Mourdock’s unapologetic conservatism clashed with Lugar’s history of working with Democrats. Had Lugar won, the general election would hardly be as competitive as it stands now. The longtime senator’s ability to secure crossover support would have left Donnelly with very long odds.

That’s why Democrats were elated after Mourdock’s primary victory. Not only did it mean Donnelly would face a more conservative Republican who would have a tougher time with independents and Democrats; they were also presented with an opportunity to seize on some of the bad blood in the primary and peel off some Republican support from discontented Lugar supporters. Even if those supporters didn’t vote for Donnelly, the thinking went, some might opt to stay home.

Donnelly, for his part, must contend with his vote for the unpopular Affordable Care Act, a fact that could haunt him at the ballot box. And the Wall Street Journal notes a few other factors that could help Mourdock’s bid: his fellow Republicans.

Mr. Mourdock’s biggest advantage may lie with other Republican candidates. Republican Rep. Mike Pence holds a comfortable edge in the race for governor, leading Democrat John Gregg 47%-34%, while Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama 52%-40%. That means a good number of Hoosiers would have to split their votes to put Mr. Donnelly over the edge, something that could present a challenge for the Democrat’s campaign.

This is likely a race that will come down to Election Day, and could hinge on voters’ willingness to split their tickets.