Sen. Dick Lugar’s uphill re-election battle is the marquee race on the GOP ballot today in Indiana, where primary voters are headed to the polls to decide the six-term Senator’s political fate.
Late polls showed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock ahead of Lugar, whose campaign turned to negative ads in the closing weeks.
Democrats are hoping to put the seat in play this November if Lugar is defeated. But Rep. Joe Donnelly still faces a tough climb in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat not named Bayh to the Senate since 1970. Birch Bayh and his son, Evan Bayh, are the only Democrats to earn that distinction.
Downballot from the Senate contest, voters on the state’s eastern side will likely pick two new Republican Members of Congress in safe open seats. A crowded field is seeking retiring GOP Rep. Dan Burton’s seat, and two top candidates are vying for the seat held by Rep. Mike Pence (R), who is running for governor.
Unlike Lugar’s race, the more established candidates are the frontrunners in these contests. But there’s room for an upset in both districts from low turnout and the Senate race absorbing the political oxygen in the Hoosier State.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. in most of the state. Polls in the southeast corner, which is on Central Standard Time, open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Former Rep. David McIntosh remains poised to win the GOP nomination in this district northwest of Indianapolis. But in a primary as crowded as this eight-candidate field, anything can happen.
McIntosh’s greatest competition is former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks. She almost tied McIntosh in fundraising by bringing in almost $700,000 by mid-April, but she struggled to compete with the former three-term Congressman’s high name identification.
Much like Lugar, McIntosh’s campaign suffered from allegations about his residency. McIntosh reportedly moved to Virginia in 2005 to work as a lobbyist and even changed his driver’s license to that state. But he continued to vote in Indiana with a rental property address, sparking a complaint from the same Indiana voter who filed a similar request on Lugar.
However, McIntosh’s opponents failed to fully capitalized on this weakness. Brooks, for example, ran a positive paid media campaign for the duration of the race.
“David McIntosh ran a solid campaign, and his opponents weren’t aggressive enough,” a seasoned Indiana GOP operative said.
A super PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, boosted McIntosh with a $132,000 independent expenditure on his behalf, according to online fundraising records. Its advertisements boosted McIntosh and criticized Brooks.
Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold, Burton’s endorsed candidate and a former professional figure skater, is also running. But he hasn’t raised enough money to boost his name identification outside his base in Grant County on the northern end of the district.
This race marks former Marion County Coroner John McGoff’s third consecutive campaign for this seat. It’s pretty unlikely, but he could win in a race with extremely low turnout because he’s well-known from previous efforts.
Finally, there’s attorney Jack Lugar, who raised a pitiful $6,000. He’s highly unlikely to win, but he’ll affect the race because of his famous last name. The Senator’s camp says the two are not related.
The race will be played out mostly in Hamilton County, which includes the largest chunk of GOP voters in the district. It’s a county north of Indianapolis that includes the wealthy suburb of Carmel.
The burgeoning GOP field means the winner could pick up the nomination with less than 30 percent of the vote. That’s how Burton won last cycle.
Luke Messer, the former Indiana Republican Party executive director, is the frontrunner for this open seat. But he’s narrowly followed by Travis Hankins, who Republicans cautioned could stage an upset in a low-turnout race.
Both Republicans are familiar faces to some of redrawn 6th district, which comprises Indiana’s southeastern corner to the Ohio River border.
In the neighboring 5th district, Messer narrowly lost to Burton last cycle by about 2,500 votes. On that same 2010 primary day in the 9th district, Hankins lost the GOP nomination to now-Rep. Todd Young by an even slimmer margin of about 1,200 votes.
When Republicans redrew the Congressional map last year, they moved the respective bases of both candidates into the 6th district.
Messer has run a more traditional, better-funded operation. He managed to mount a television campaign in the pricey Cincinnati broadcast market, where voters aren’t familiar with him from his previous run or time in the state House. And just a couple of days ago, Messer secured Gov. Mitch Daniels’ endorsement.
The elusive Hankins shuns many interviews, but his grass-roots success surprised Republicans in 2010. One local GOP consultant compared Hankins to “Keyser Söze,” the mythical Kevin Spacey character in “The Usual Suspects” movie.
“He’s the Keyser Söze of southern Indiana,” the GOP consultant said. “You hear about him, but you don’t actually see him. He keeps popping up in the polls, but there’s no TV buy.”
This is a tough district to buy air time in because it is contains four media markets: Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Dayton. That works to Messer’s advantage, but anything can happen in a low-profile House race like this.
Local Republicans expect a low turnout of 60,000 to 80,000 voters. The field is crowded with other names, but Republicans say either Messer or Hankins will win the nod. That means the nominee could win with less than 40 percent of the vote.
Freshman Rep. Larry Bucshon (R) faces a primary challenge from his 2010 opponent, tea party activist Kristi Risk.
For months, Democrats promoted Risk’s challenge in hopes her victory would put the seat in play for their likely nominee, former state Rep. Dave Crooks.
Bucshon defeated Risk by about 2,000 votes last cycle, or about 4 points. Unless Risk manages an unlikely upset, the first-term Republican should beat her by a larger margin today.