Indiana Democratic Party leaders are campaigning hard against Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., believing he will be tougher to defeat in November than his foe in the Republican primary election, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Democrats enjoy the luxury of not having a contested primary election for the Senate seat. That has allowed Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, to take jabs at both Lugar and Mourdock instead of fending off a rival or two in the May 8 primary.
The GOP is starting to hit back. Since the start of April, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has criticized Donnelly for his votes in support of President Obama's health care law and economic stimulus package, and it demanded that Donnelly return $7,230 in campaign contributions he received during an eight-year period from Owen "Butch" Morgan, indicted last week on charges of conspiracy to commit voter fraud.
Morgan, former St. Joseph County Democratic chairman, is accused of telling voter registration workers to forge names and signatures on voter petitions required to qualify Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for the 2008 Indiana presidential primary election.
The South Bend Tribune reported Friday that Donnelly's campaign said it will give Morgan's contributions to charity.
"The fact that he made this decision only after being called on to do so is evidence he never intended to return those donations, which is clearly out of touch with Hoosier values," Lance Trover, deputy communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement Monday.
Democratic Party officials have repeatedly insisted Lugar is "out of touch" with Hoosiers, in part because he has lived in suburban Washington, D.C., since 1977 and does not have a house in Indiana.
Elizabeth Shappell, communications director for Donnelly's campaign, disputed Trover's claim that Donnelly had been prodded into giving up Morgan's contributions.
"We planned on returning the donations before -- and without consideration of -- outside calls to do so, because it is the right thing to do," Shappell said Monday in an email.
She said the funds are being donated to Catholic Charities and the Red Cross (both for southern Indiana tornado relief), and to the Food Bank of Northern Indiana and the Faith Mission of Elkhart.
Donnelly's Senate campaign had raised $1.4 million through the end of 2011.