Richard Lugar (R-inc): 38 (42)It's looking like after six terms (that takes us back to 1976!), Richard Lugar's long tenure in the Senate is about to come to an end. He's on the verge of losing the Republican Senate primary, which will be held this Tuesday (May 8), to a challenger from the right, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. That should come as no surprise to anyone who's been following the internal polls and the smoke signals from the ground. But with Friday's release of the new poll sponsored by local political tipsheet Howey Politics and Dan Quayle-alma mater DePauw University (actually taken by two partisan pollsters, one Democrat and one Republican), we now have a public poll putting that in stark relief.
Richard Mourdock (R): 48 (35)
If you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "who cares? One wingnut replaces another; life goes on," here's why it's important (and why you should be rooting for Mourdock). Previous polls in Indiana have shown that while Lugar has substantial crossover appeal and a reserve of goodwill among Democrats, Mourdock has no such thing; in fact, in matchups against presumptive Dem nominee Rep. Joe Donnelly, Lugar wins huge but Mourdock finds himself in a tossup. (Case in point, the previous Howey poll, which also did a general election portion: Lugar defeats Donnelly 50-29, while Mourdock and Donnelly tie at 35 apiece.) A Mourdock win on Tuesday would immediately put one more Senate seat into play as a possible Democratic pickup, and make the GOP's path toward flipping control of the Senate that much trickier.
For the last month or more, both sides have been running saturation-level advertising, with various outside groups pouring money into the race (establishment forces on Lugar's behalf, tea-flavored groups like Club for Growth backing Mourdock). Whatever Mourdock and his allies have been doing, seems to have succeeded at defining Lugar, as the newest Howey poll finds Lugar with only a 43/43 approval among GOP voters, while Mourdock is at 47/25.
In response to the question of "In the last week or two, has your opinion of Richard Lugar become..." only 12% said "more favorable" while 32% said "less favorable." (That would explain those trendlines, where we're seeing not only a Mourdock surge as he gets better known, but Lugar's vote share going down, pretty unusual at this stage in the game.) But Mourdock's voters aren't voting for Mourdock as much as they're voting against Lugar.
Mourdock's allies tapped effectively into conservative discontent over Lugar's inability to get with the new conservative agenda, which is not just to vote conservatively (which Lugar does), but to stop trying to legislate in good faith and actively trying to sandbag the Democrats at every turn (which Lugar doesn't). The top reasons given by Mourdock voters in this poll are "Lugar been in office too long," "time for a change," "dislike Lugar," and "dissatisfied with Lugar;" only 10% of Mourdock's voters seemed to give a reason that was pro-Mourdock (that Mourdock is "conservative"). (Ironically, later in the poll, 60% of respondents said they want someone to work across the aisle to solve the nation's problems, while 33% said they want a principled conservative first.)
We're at the point in the campaign where both sides make their closing arguments via TV ad. In a nutshell... Lugar: I'm experienced! Mourdock: Lugar lies!
“I believe that right now if a majority of Hoosiers were to vote in an election, that is all Hoosiers regardless of party — Republicans, Democrats, independents, I would win,” Lugar said. “I want everybody in the state to vote for me on Tuesday. Everybody. I’m not asking anybody to cross over. I’m just saying positively ‘register your vote, because if you do not I may not be able to continue serving you. At this point, help.”A real Operation Hilarity, of course, would involve Democrats voting for Mourdock ... in the hopes that his weakness against Donnelly does, in fact, put the GOP on the defensive here in November and possibly even turns into a pickup.