Feb. 7, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

If Lugar Loses, Will Indiana Really Be in Play?

Shira Toeplitz/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Even if Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock beats incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in the GOP primary, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly would be a clear underdog in the general election.

Now that the Club for Growth and other conservatives groups have decided to make a substantial investment in defeating veteran Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, and polling suggests a tightening race, it should be pretty clear even to the Senator’s most loyal supporters that he has a very serious fight on his hands.

Lugar’s adversary in the GOP primary, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, didn’t get off to a fast start. His year-end Federal Election Commission report showed less than $1.3 million raised and only $362,000 in the bank, compared with almost $3.5 million raised and $4 million in the bank for Lugar.

But the involvement of outside groups was always going to be vital to Mourdock’s success, and the inclination of Lugar loyalists to dismiss the possibility that Hoosiers might not renominate a Senator of such longevity and accomplishment has helped the treasurer’s bid.

Even some who have met Mourdock and support his challenge don’t describe him in the most flattering way. “He is kind of gruff, like a curmudgeon. And he doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t fawning over his noble cause against Lugar,” said a political operative who would like to see Lugar retired in the May 8 primary.

For conservatives, it’s not that they are in love with Mourdock. It’s that they simply have had it with Lugar, who seems so out of touch with the current political mood and the shape of American politics that he can’t understand why not owning a residence in Indiana would be a big deal to voters or why earmarks would bother conservatives.

Lugar is up with an ad complaining about the attacks on him and arguing that “Richard Mourdock and his D.C. cronies offer nothing but the politics of personal destruction.”

Veteran Indiana political analyst Brian Howey believes that the criticism of Lugar for staying at hotels when he returns to the state could backfire: “Sen. Lugar has a strong statewide network. He is the top vote-getter in Indiana history. I’m anticipating a backlash against Mourdock.”

The Senator’s critics respond by observing that Howey is clearly in Lugar’s camp. One critic doubted the backlash hypothesis, saying, “Lugar hasn’t gotten hit at all so far. His numbers are terrible without anyone laying a glove on him” in paid advertising.

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