The Indiana primary is quickly approaching on Tuesday of next week, with longtime Sen. Dick Lugar fighting for his political life against state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. And it’s not just the first serious political fight that Lugar has had in decades — it’s also a serious fight for the credibility of outside groups and endorsements.
A poll released last week by the conservative group Citizens United, which is backing Mourdock, gave him a lead of 44%-39% over the incumbent. And before that, a poll released two weeks prior by the Mourdock campaign claimed a one-point edge of 42%-41% for the challenger.
The GOP’s national ticket from 2008 has now split on this race, with former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain long supporting Lugar, and his running mate former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsing Mourdock last week.
As the local CBS affiliate in Indianapolis reported in April, outside groups have actually spent slightly more than the candidates themselves.
In the home stretch, Lugar has rolled out a whole arsenal of big guns. Here’s a radio ad starring McCain, Lugar’s longtime Senate colleague:
And another featuring singer and conservative Pat Boone, asking how it is that experience became a thing of lesser value:
Meanwhile, outside groups backing Mourdock have been running a plethora of ads. There is the Club for Growth — the main interest group backer for Mourdock — accusing Lugar of “clinging to power” and becoming part of Washington:
The National Rifle Association aired this spot three weeks ago:
And on the other side is the American Action Network, a group founded by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, has their own spots against Mourdock:
Lugar was first elected to the Senate way back in 1976, after having previously served as Mayor of Indianapolis, and after having run one unsuccessful Senate race in the Democratic wave year of 1974. He then defeated another Dem incumbent in 1976 by a landslide margin. He won a 54%-46% re-election in 1982, and in the 30 years since then he has never received less than 66% of the vote — indeed, in his last race in 2006, he didn’t have any Democratic opponent at all, wining by 87%-13% against a Libertarian candidate.
But this year, Mourdock is seeking to harness Tea Party ire against Lugar’s incumbency, and against a series of votes Lugar has taken over the years: For the TARP bailout, for the auto industry bailout, for President Obama’s Supreme Court appointees (which Lugar has said creates precedent for Democrats to vote for Republican appointees), for the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and others.
Lugar has also had to deal with challenges to his state residency: He lives mainly in northern Virginia, and has not owned a home in Indiana itself since 1977, the year after he was first elected to the Senate. The campaign has cited the Indiana constitution and the opinions of current and past state attorneys general to show that Lugar did not legally lose his residency when he left for Washington to serve the state as its senator decades ago. However, the campaign has also struggled with the appropriate public messaging — such as comparing his legal status to that of military service.
Also waiting in the wings is the presumptive Democratic nominee, Rep. Joe Donnelly — and the hopes of Democrats that it would be easier for him to defeat an insurgent right-wing Mourdock, or even perhaps a battered Lugar.