- Posted May 9, 2012 by
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Indiana Senate Seat Hot Potato in Fall Election
The Tea Party revolt that "retired" the longest-serving Republican in the US Senate yesterday and voted in State Treasurer Richard Mourdock to face Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly for the vacancy, has put into play what would have otherwise been considered a safe seat for the GOP.
Indiana's defeated Senator Dick Lugar was expected to win easily if on the ballot in the fall. According to polls, Mourdock and Donnelly, however, are in a dead heat.
Democrats are like sharks smelling blood in the water circling around Mourdock ready for the kill.
Mourdock is defiant and vows to keep the seat in Republican hands. The hardline conservative is considered by many independents to be too rigid and too far to the right. Those usually reliable voters could bolt and cast a ballot for Donnelly.
The Senate seat Lugar has occupied since 1977 is now in play, according to analysts.
It also means that, in the short term at least, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has to manage another battlefield in his quest to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats this November, a change that would make him majority leader.
“It’s obviously a more competitive general election without Lugar on the ballot,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which has classified the Indiana Senate seat as “leaning” Republican for now.
“We think it’s a race worth watching,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, which also has the seat as “lean R.” “It’s fair to say the Democrats have a better chance running against Mourdock than against Lugar.”
But, analysts caution, Indiana is far less fertile ground for Democrats this year than in 2008, when President Barack Obama carried the state.
In fact, a majority of Hoosiers appear to be leaning Republican, observers say. Indiana returned former Sen. Dan Coats to the Senate in 2010 and has given Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels strong marks for his handling of the state, they point out.
“Indiana is too deeply Republican,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
But Lugar’s loss means that McConnell and the Republicans need to spend money on another Senate race. “They have to put money in to elect Mourdock,” Sabato said, adding that, in the end, “He’ll win.”
“This is Mourdock’s seat to lose,” agreed Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.
Downs added that Mourdock already has campaigned aggressively across the state because of the contested primary and has a larger political network than Donnelly’s.
Nevertheless, Democrats see an opportunity they would not have if Lugar had won.
Mourdock, Indiana’s state treasurer, “is too far out of the mainstream for independent voters,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said before Indiana’s polls closed Tuesday.
Mourdock’s positions on Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ issues and just getting along with the other party makes him “this cycle’s Ken Buck,” the Democrats said, referring to a failed 2010 GOP tea party Senate candidate in Colorado.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also told reporters as Hoosiers were voting that Mourdock was “a far-right tea party candidate” whose election is “only going to give Democrats another pick-up opportunity.”
Donnelly on Wednesday depicted himself as the only remaining moderate member of Congress from Indiana.
“I’m a Blue Dog Democrat … what it means is, willing to work with others, a strong national defense, standing up for our veterans and balanced budgets,” Donnelly said on MSNBC.
For Mourdock’s part, he sought to assure Hoosiers and Americans hearing his name for the first time Wednesday morning that “I am a conservative,” as he put it on CNN. “I believe that what we have to have for economic recovery is more rolled-back government — scaled back.”
McConnell said he looks forward to welcoming Mourdock as a senator next year, although the Hoosier candidate himself has been a bit vague about his enthusiasm for keeping McConnell as party leader.
“If we get a few more conservatives in the United States Senate, we can certainly change the leadership, but not necessarily the people, but at least give the Senate leadership a more conservative point of view,” Mourdock said on MSNBC. He added that he had never spoken to McConnell.
“There is potential for (Indiana) to be highly competitive,” Downs said, but he added it appears to be a strong year for Republicans in the state.
Nationally, conditions now “narrowly favor” a Republican Senate takeover, Sabato said. “We’re talking a seat or two max,” in the majority, he said.
Rothenberg said chances of a party change in the Senate are “50-50, with a pinky on the scale for the Democrats.”
Duffy said that, with Indiana and other states in play, “the Senate majority is evermore a 50-50 proposition.”
Regardless of whether McConnell wins the majority or not, he could face new challenges with Mourdock in his caucus, Duffy said. “It means that he has another member who does not believe in the art of the deal.”
From the Cornfield, from what was a secure Republican Senate seat, now is anyone's game.
Control of the Senate may very well depend on what happens in the Cornfield.