Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly answers questions during an… (Michael Conroy / AP Photo )
In a state that is considered almost guaranteed to back Mitt Romney in the presidential election, Democrat Joe Donnelly has pulled slightly ahead of his Republican opponent, Richard Mourdock, in the race to replace Indiana’s outgoing Sen. Richard G. Lugar.
Donnelly, a three-term congressman with a centrist voting record, has a slight edge over state treasurer Mourdock, according to a Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll conducted last week.
Donnelly had 40% support to Mourdock’s 38%, but his lead is within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The two had been tied, according to an earlier Howey poll conducted last March, before Mourdock secured the nomination.
The seat had been a Republican stronghold under Lugar, but that was before Mourdock, a tea party darling, captured the Republican nomination with 60% of the vote in the GOP primary in May. Now Democrats think they have a chance to take the seat in a year where control of the Senate is up for grabs.
Mourdock benefited in the primary from support from the tea party group FreedomWorks and the libertarian-minded Club for Growth. Since he won the nomination, Club for Growth and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS have aired ads attacking Donnelly.
But Donnelly appears to be having success at casting Mourdock as too extreme for Indiana. He had some early help from Mourdock, who, basking in the spotlight after his primary win, declared that bipartisanship “ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.” He also said that the “highlight of politics” is “to inflict my opinion on someone else,” a sound bite that Democrats have found especially handy for ads that blast Mourdock as a radical.
In March, 15% of voters viewed Mourdock favorably while 18% viewed him unfavorably. The latest poll found 26% viewed him favorably but 32% viewed him unfavorably.
By comparison, 24% view Donnelly favorably and 21% view him unfavorably.
Mourdock is leading in the money race, with more than $4 million raised, compared with Donnelly’s $2.6 million, as of June 30. Donnelly, however, had more cash on hand, with almost $1.4 million to Mourdock’s $890,796, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
While Donnelly’s standing with Indiana voters may have improved, President Obama is still trailing Romney by a considerable margin in Indiana, a state that went in Obama’s favor in 2008. Romney leads 52% to 40%, according to the poll.
But Republican pollster Christine Matthews noted that the Democrats’ convention earlier this month has motivated some independents to declare themselves Democrats, even in Indiana.
“This is reflecting that something is happening out there,” Matthews said.
Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook