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Indiana Senate race less of a sure bet for GOP

May 11, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro
  • Indiana's Richard Mourdock is still favored to win the Senate seat in November, but Democrats have gained an edge with him as the nominee, a nonpartisan report says.
Indiana's Richard Mourdock is still favored to win the Senate seat… (AJ Mast / Associated Press )

That didn’t take long.

Fresh off tea party challenger Richard Mourdock’s defeat of longtime Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana’s GOP primary, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said Democrats’ chances have improved in the general election match-up this fall.

Mourdock, the state treasurer who is now the GOP nominee, is still favored to win the Senate seat in November. But three-term Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly now has a better chance against Mourdock than he ever did against the six-term elder statesman Lugar, according to Cook.

“Lugar’s primary defeat has put another GOP-held seat on Democrats’ target list,” wrote Cook’s senior analyst Jennifer Duffy on Friday.

“Indiana is not an easy state for Democrats, particularly in a presidential year, but Mourdock has provided them with some arguments that they hope will work to Donnelly’s advantage,” she continued. “The onus is on Democrats and Donnelly to prove that they can make this one of the most competitive races of the cycle.”

Mourdock is a less seasoned politician than Lugar, but he handily won Tuesday’s primary with more than 60% of the vote. The state has a solid conservative tilt, and in 2010, Mourdock carried Donnelly’s own home county when he ran for a second term as treasurer in 2010, the analysis said.

While the debate continues over Lugar’s defeat – he was too moderate at a time of conservative enthusiasm; he was out-of-touch with Hoosiers after 35 years in Washington – one influential voice sought to set the record straight.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky – a key leader of the conservative flank in Congress and nationally who was himself an upset victor two years ago – warned against discounting the role of the tea party in the win.

“The upset victory of Richard Mourdock in Indiana indicates the tea party is alive and well,” Paul wrote in an op-ed this week in the Washington Times.

“Something remarkable happened Tuesday night in Indiana. Voters from nearly every part of the Republican Party came together to vote for change. Not just any change -- change from a well-liked 36-year incumbent,” he wrote. “This kind of change does not happen very often in politics.”

Mourdock benefited from a ground-game run by FreedomWorks, among the most sophisticated umbrella organizations over the tea party confederation, as well as an avalanche of outside cash from conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, spent on relentless television ads. They provided a hefty match to Lugar’s own war chest and campaign operation.

The question now is whether Mourdock can pivot to general election strategy as Democrats have already begun theirs.

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