A new Depauw University poll has Tea Party candidate and Indiana State Treasurer, Richard Mourdock, ahead of the venerable, Dick Lugar in the upcoming Republican Senate Primary by a whopping 10 points.
The Tea Party challenge to the six term Senator has been building for some time. The election of President Obama in 2008–and the perceived coziness between the POTUS and Lugar–made him a ripe target for the rightest fringe of the Right Wing. After the 2010 mid-terms, which saw major gains by the GOP in congress, including a takeover of the House, Lugar began to move farther right. His relationship with the President became frosty, and Lugar joined his party in filibustering nearly everything the administration proposed including such typically bipartisan measures like the extending of unemployment benefits.
Now, it looks like the Senator’s reward for his efforts is…nothing. Lugar has been attacked from his right for his residency (he has lived in Virginia for 35 years) and his right to be on the ballot challenged. Lugar also received some recent bad press due to improperly billing tax payers for hotel expenditures in Indianapolis. Despite his long and largely respected Senate tenure, Lugar has been criticized as if he were a carpetbagger.
With the primary scheduled for this Tuesday, 5/8, Lugar is in deep trouble. His opponent has been competitively funded by Tea Party groups and has the support of The Club for Growth as well as such luminaries as Sarah Palin.
The upshot of all of this is the Republican party may just be headed for another Christine O’Donnell-Sharron Angle moment if Lugar is indeed dispatched by Mourdock. The Democratic Party has put forth perhaps the best possible candidate in former House Representative, Joe Donnelly. Donnelly is well-funded and a strong campaigner who held his house seat in 2010 despite a strong challenge from Tea Party candidate, Jackie Walorski in a very Republican year. Donnelly is a moderate to conservative Dem who voted for the Affordable Care Act only after the President promised a signing statement affirming that the bill would not create government-funded abortions. While the general election in Indiana stacks up as a challenge for Donnelly against Mourdock (polling finds the two running even), he has almost no shot against Lugar, who holds a 21 point lead over the Democratic candidate.
While Mourdock does present himself as “kinder-gentler” sort of Tea Party candidate, he is still relatively unknown running in a moderate-conservative state. A pivot to the center right will be key if Mourdock is to win. A place that Donnelly may be able to get to easier than the Republican. Also, moderates in Indiana have a deep and abiding respect for Lugar in the state, and if the man who vanquishes him does so by running as a Tea Party candidate, the possibility of voter resentment should not be disregarded.
If the Depauw poll is accurate, get ready for the hottest Senate race of the season this side of Brown-Warren in Massachusetts, and if Donnelly comes through and keeps the Senate under Democratic control, the GOP will have no one to blame but themselves…again.