INDIANAPOLIS - U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar's iconic career of elected public service appears to be in great jeopardy. A Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll conducted Monday and Tuesday shows that Lugar is trailing Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock 48-38% in Indiana's Republican Senate primary. That head-to-head figure includes so-called "leaners," who could conceivably change their minds in the final 72 hours of the campaign. Without the leans, Mourdock still leads 43-35%.
Based on this survey data, Howey Politics Indiana is moving the Senate race into a “Leans Mourdock” category. It had been “Leans Lugar” until the March 26-28 Howey/DePauw survey had Lugar leading Mourdock 42-35%, at which time HPI moved the Senate race into “Tossup.”
The survey, conducted by Republican pollster Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research and Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, is based on 700 likely voters with a +/- margin of error at 3.7%. The sample was made up of 76% Republicans, 14% independent, 8% independent/lean Republican, 1% lean Democrat and 1% independent/lean Democrat. Survey top lines will be posted under the “Howey/DePauw Poll” tab at www.howeypolitics.com.
And it appears to be a confirmation of a Tea Party mantra that a single challenger to Lugar would consolidate their support, with the incumbent getting about 39% of the “establishment” Republican vote - the percentage that U.S. Sen. Dan Coats won in the 2010 Republican primary against four other candidates. Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, spearheaded by Tea Party activist Monica Boyer of Warsaw and Greg Fettig of Noblesville, engineered a Tea Party endorsement of Mourdock on Sept. 24, 2011 in Greenfield, and helped keep the field constricted to the treasurer, who was coming off a million vote reelection campaign in 2010.
Yang observed, “Back in January 2011, I conducted a statewide survey on behalf of Chairman Dan Parker for the Indiana Democratic Party, and I found a surprising result in one of our questions: Richard Lugar had a 28% reelect to another term score, and fully 56% wanted to make a change and elect someone else, and this result was among Republican voters. Thus, the findings of that poll made clear that Senator Lugar was vulnerable to a single challenger in a Republican primary. And that’s exactly what has seemed to transpire.”
Among Republicans, Mourdock has a 51-36% lead, and among the 44% of the Republican sample who called themselves “very conservative,” Mourdock leads 63-26%.
Should this trend continue through Tuesday’s Republican primary, Mourdock will have pulled off one of the greatest upsets in modern Indiana history. Yang suggested that the final results may not be close.
But it will hardly be an isolated event. Over the past decade, Hoosier voters have had a vivid propensity to change parties, throw out incumbents, including powerful, iconic ones. This includes a sitting governor, two of the most powerful legislators in state history in Republican primaries, five sitting U.S. Congressmen, the East Chicago mayor who led the Lake County Democratic machine, and in the 2007 municipal elections, 40% of incumbent mayors, including Bart Peterson of Indianapolis. In 2010, sensing the destabilized political environment, U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh abruptly announced his retirement just prior to the primary filing deadline, setting off a disastrous series of defeats for Indiana Democrats, including a dramatic erosion of the party’s Southern Indiana base where “heritage” Indiana House and Senate seats held for decades by the party went Republican.
Those supporting Lugar included 24% who liked his experience, 21% who said he was doing a good job, 16% cited his “good record,” and at 6% each cited “just like him,” “dislike Moudock,” while at 5% others cited his “seniority,” “foreign policy” and Mourdock’s “negative campaign.”
The Lugar/Mourdock race essentially became a referendum on the former and this time tenure and legacy appears to have become a millstone. When Howey/DePauw asked “over the past week or two, has your opinion of Richard Lugar become less favorable,” 32% said yes, while 12% said their opinion became more favorable. Clearly, the stately Lugar’s campaign going negative had repercussions. Lugar’s hard favorable/unfavorables were both at 43%, while Mourdock’s stood at 47/25%. And cross tabulations show Lugar lost support in Indianapolis, his hometown.
“While the Tea Party and other national groups got into this race because of what they consider to be Lugar’s liberal transgressions, it appears that a bigger issue for GOP primary voters is simply his longevity,” said Matthews. “It is a very difficult environment to be running as a 35 year incumbent.”
Matthews added: A plurality (44%) of primary voters identifies themselves as “very conservative” and, not surprisingly, they overwhelmingly favor Mr. Mourdock (63%-26%). So the balance of the electorate is somewhat conservative (33%) or moderate (19%) and, to win, Mr. Lugar would have to dominate among these voters. The problem for Senator Lugar, is that Mr. Mourdock is also winning the less conservative voters (43%-41%), so that the senator carries only moderate voters (60%-26%).
When pollsters Yang and Matthews asked: “Which statement better describes your view?” - 60% responded to “I want a U.S. Senator to focus first on trying to solve our country’s many problems, even if that means working with elected officials across the aisle to do it.” And 33% responded to “I want a U.S. senator to focus first on standing up for conservative principles even if that means not working with elected officials across the aisle to solve problems.” The first question would appear to have fit a description of Lugar; the second, Mourdock.
On a second issue question pertaining the DREAM Act, which has been vociferously opposed by the Tea Party and Mourdock, the pollsters asked: “Do you support or oppose allowing the children of illegal immigrants who graduate from high school and have no criminal record and serve in the U.S. military or attend college a path of full U.S. citizenship.” Again, the response would seem to favor Lugar: 22% said they “strongly supported” that; 32% said “somewhat support” while just 13% said they “somewhat oppose” and 19% “strongly opposed.” The aggregate on that question was 54% supporting and 32% opposing. Again, such a stance on the issue would appear to have played into Lugar’s wheelhouse.
But what should be troubling for Mourdock in victory is a fractured Republican Party. Among Republicans supporting Lugar, 12% had a favorable opinion of Mourdock and 57% had a negative opinion. Yang observed, “If Joe Donnelly can get 15% of the Republican vote, split the independents, that’s how Frank O’Bannon defeated Stephen Goldsmith.”
Value of endorsement
When the pollsters asked whether an endorsement would make them more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate. Here’s how that broke down:
More likely Less likely
Gov. Mitch Daniels 49% 18%
State/national Tea Party 37% 20%
State/national business groups 29% 17%
National Rifle Association 46% 13%
Indiana Right to Life 51% 12%
Club for Growth 8% 17%
Sarah Palin 32% 24%