Democrats are chomping at the bit from the defeat of longtime Sen. Dick Lugar in his Republican primary in Indiana, saying that this state’s Senate seat is now officially on the map. Do they have a shot?
The more conservative primary winner, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, will now face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is already praising Lugar’s record of bipartisanship on national security — at the same time as Mourdock is offering an ironic definition of bipartisanship, in which it “ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
One national Democratic source told TPM that Dems will be making a strong commitment on behalf of Donnelly.
“There are thousands and thousands of Hoosier voters that have woken up this morning, these are H voters that have voted for Dick Lugar their entire lives,” the source said. “And they woke up this morning to find out that Richard Mourdock defeated him because he wasn’t partisan enough, because he wasn’t ideological enough. And I think that makes Richard Mourdock very poorly positioned to appeal to those voters, and Joe Donnelly is very well positioned to appeal to those voters.”
TPM also asked state Democratic chairman Dan Parker, whether he has been in contact with the national party committees, or national Dem-aligned interest groups, about an increased commitment to the race now that Mourdock is the opponent.
“The National Party and DSCC have been engaged in this race since Joe Donnelly announced as a candidate,” Parker responded via e-mail. “We’ve worked closely for over a year. The National Party agrees with the IDP and understands that independent and moderate Hoosiers do not want to elect an ideological tea party candidate like Richard Mourdock.”
TPM asked Indiana Republican spokesman Pete Seat for comment on the Dems’ belief that the race is winnable. Seat hearkened back to the recent 2010 cycle, when Republican former Sen. Dan Coats easily defeated Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth by a margin of 55%-40%, in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.
“Not so fast, Joe Donnelly, is the short answer. And I say that for a number of reasons,” said Seat. One is, lets be honest, Joe Donnelly is Brad Ellsworth, the sequel. And you know what they say about sequels.
“Donnelly, like Ellsworth, provided crucial support to Barack Obama when he needed to ram through Obamacare and the failed stimulus plan, And his record is one that Hoosier voters have rejected before, and will reject again. For all his talk about being this Blue Dog moderate Democrats, he constantly tries to cast himself as that, you look at his record and it’s not in line with that.”
Seat also added: “We view every race as, we don’t take any race for granted, I’ll put it that way. And I know Democrats are just spinning themselves into a tizzy today, trying to say that Joe Donnelly has a chance. Will it be competitive race, yes; Will we take anything for granted, no. But when you look at the facts and Joe Donnelly’s record, it’s not the kind of record that sells in Indiana. Just ask Brad Ellsworth, who barely got 40 percent of the vote in 2010.”
Already, Democrats have been pouncing on Mourdock’s more hardline comments. For example, from a memo released Tuesday night:
Mourdock spent $2 million of taxpayer money on a lawsuit that could have endangered 124,000 Indiana jobs - including 4,000 high paying jobs in Kokomo, Indiana - by killing the Chrysler’s bankruptcy restructuring. Mourdock called the lawsuit his “Rosa Parks moment.” Mourdock’s Tea Party opposition to the entire auto industry rescue could have cost the state 140,000 jobs in total.
Republicans, however, have been countering that Mourdock has been elected twice statewide, including with 62% of the vote in 2010, and that Indiana is likely to vote Republican for president in the fall. The state did vote narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008 — which was seen as a very big upset at the time, as the state had previously not voted Democratic for president since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964. And as noted above, they intend to re-use many of the same attacks against Donnelly as they did against Ellsworth in the 2010 GOP wave.
At the same time, of course, there is another voice criticizing Mourdock: Dick Lugar himself, who released a long statement Tuesday night that sharply criticized the primary winner. At the same time as he hoped for Republicans to win the Senate, he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about this particular race.
“If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator,” Lugar wrote. “But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate.”
The big question, then, is whether those attacks against Mourdock will stick, creating a huge opening for Donnelly, or if he can instead pivot effectively to the general election.