Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar will face a steep uphill battle in the state’s Republican primaries next Tuesday, according to a new poll that shows the longtime incumbent down ten points against conservative State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Friday’s Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground poll, considered by many observers to be among the most reliable polls in the state, found Mourdock leading Lugar 48 percent to 38 percent.
That number “includes so-called ‘leaners,’” writes Brian Howey on Howey Politics Indiana, referring to people who could change their vote in the next few days. Without those people, Mourdock still holds an 8-point, 43 to 38-percentage point lead.
“I think that Hoosiers are looking for change, and that is the toughest thing to overcome in politics, the tide going against you when you’re an incumbent,” said Curt Smith, President of the Indiana Family Institute.
“A disatisfaction with Lugar’s three decade tenure in the Senate, despite the fact that a clear majority view his model of working with both sides of the aisle to solve our nation’s problems” contributed to Mourdock’s lead, said another Republican strategist. “It’s really a manifestation of the mood toward Congress and their abject failure to do anything regarding our debt and jobs crisis.”
Lugar is likely to be ousted, wrote Fred Yang, the Democratic pollster who conducted the poll along with Republican pollster Christine Jensen of Bellwether Group, because Mourdock has the “momentum” in the race. Yang pointed to the fact that “Mourdock’s ‘favorable’ rating has doubled,” while Lugar’s has actually declined.
Moreover, he pointed out, Mourdock holds a strong lead with “very conservative” and self-identified Republicans, the two groups most likely to head to the polls Tuesday.
The race has become incredibly contentious, with outside groups pouring in money on both sides. One of the biggest spending groups, the Club for Growth, which has been backing Mourdock, celebrated the poll’s results.
“From day one, this campaign has been about the choice between Senator Lugar’s liberal record of voting for bailouts, tax increases and debt, and Richard Mourdock’s principled opposition to those failed policies,” emailed Club for Growth Spokesman Barney Keller. “Hoosier Republicans are increasingly abandoning Senator Lugar’s sinking campaign because they want a strong fiscal conservative representing them in the Senate, not a six-term liberal who lost touch with Indiana Republicans decades ago.”
The two campaigns have gone increasingly negative, something that Smith suggested might be hurting Lugar.
“I think the negative tone of the campaign has hurt Lugar more than other candidates because of his long time standing as a statesman above the partisan fray. So when there’s a negative ad that makes a lot of charges … and then the disclaimer comes on and says ‘this is Dick Lugar and I approved this ad,’ … it’s very jarring for Hoosiers.”
The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday of this week, surveyed 700 likely Indiana voters who had voted in past GOP primaries. Just over three-quarters of that group was registered Republican, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.