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Mourdock fights to lessen GOP defectors

Brian Francisco






FORT WAYNE – On Wednesday, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb was asked whether the party’s wounds have healed since Richard Mourdock defeated six-term incumbent Richard Lugar in a fierce Senate primary election.

“Of course, yeah,” Holcomb said while waiting for Mourdock to arrive for a rally at Allen County Republican Party Headquarters. “We’ve come together as a family as we have in the past.

“Everyone’s oaring in the same direction,” he said.

But Thursday, the results of a bipartisan poll indicated Mourdock trails Democratic foe Joe Donnelly by 2 percentage points less than six weeks ahead of the general election. Because the survey’s margin of error was 3.5 percent, Donnelly’s 40-38 edge is considered a statistical tie.

As a result, political analysts for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal declared Indiana’s Senate race a “tossup,” something that at least three other national news organizations did weeks ago.

The survey of 800 likely voters was taken by a Republican pollster and his Democratic counterpart Sept. 19-23 for the website Howey Politics Indiana and DePauw University. Libertarian Andrew Horning was favored by 7 percent of respondents.

In the same poll, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney led President Obama 52-40, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th, led Democratic rival John Gregg 47-34.

The Howey/DePauw poll found that among voters who supported Lugar in the primary election, only 60.3 percent intend to vote for the more conservative Mourdock on Nov. 6.

A loose-knit group called Republicans for Donnelly formed in May and is planning a meet-and-greet for the 2nd District congressman next week in Indianapolis.

“ … Support for Donnelly is NOT based on sour grapes over Senator Lugar’s loss,” group member Anne Phelan of Indianapolis said Thursday in an email. “The loss was, however, a wakeup call to moderate and moderately conservative Republicans that it was time to push back against the far right.”

Phelan also said, “I want to be represented by someone who both shares many of my views on issues and understands the importance of respect, civility, and compromise.”

Mourdock has blamed bipartisanship for the federal government’s growing debt and had called Lugar “out of touch” with Hoosiers and their views.

In five contested general elections since 1976, Lugar on average won 63 percent of the vote. Despite losing badly to Mourdock in this year’s GOP primary, Lugar still attracted more than 261,000 votes.

“The bad news for Mourdock is that recent research shows that supporters of divisive primary losers oftentimes split their ticket to avoid supporting their fellow partisan primary winner,” IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf said in an email.

“Results from 2008 in Ohio show that some Hillary Clinton supporters supported down-ballot Democrats at higher rates than they supported (Barack) Obama” for president, Wolf said.

On Wednesday, Mourdock predicted he will build a lead as “Hoosier voters find out that a vote for Joe Donnelly is a vote for (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid; a vote for Joe Donnelly is a vote for more of the Obama agenda. That’s not being accepted here in Indiana at all.”

It is a refrain Mourdock has used often – and was answered by one the Donnelly camp uses with equal frequency.

“ … Hoosier voters are rejecting Mourdock’s extreme, ‘my way or the highway’ ideas like questioning the constitutionality of Social Security and Medicare and his overall approach of wanting to ‘inflict’ his opinion on others,” Elizabeth Shappell, communications director for Donnelly, said Thursday in an email.


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