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Analysis: Lugar needs all Hoosiers in primary



Just one day before a new poll showed that Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock had opened a double digit lead on incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, I was part of a panel on the Indianapolis public radio show No Limits discussing the race.

Even at that point, we all agreed that Lugar – a six-term senator who has gained national and international respect for his work on nuclear proliferation issues – was in trouble.

Voters seem concerned that he's spent more than 35 years in Washington D.C., that he's 80 years old, and that he had supported two of President Barack Obama's nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Frankly, even Lugar acknowledged later he wasn't surprised that the survey – the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll – had found him behind.

What I think surprised us all was the margin: 10 percentage points.

The poll had Mourdock's support at 48 percent (including those leaning toward him) and Lugar at 38 percent. It was a huge turnaround from just a month before when a Howey/DePauw poll had Lugar up by 7 points.

But one thing that the poll might not have been able to measure was the impact that Democrats could have on the race if they decide to cross over and vote in the GOP primary.

Such action is not unprecedented. Four years ago when Indiana was the focus of attention in the Democratic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, thousands of Hoosiers who normally ask for GOP ballots were thought to have switched over to the Democratic primary to participate.

Kip Tew, a former state Democratic chairman who was on that radio panel with me, said there's no way to know how many Republican voters made the switch. That's in part because in Indiana, voters don't register as Democrats or Republicans. They simply show up at the polls and tell the folks working there which ballot they want.

So there's no true number of Republicans or Democrats in the state and therefore no way to count who switched ballots.

But Tew, who also headed up Obama's campaign efforts in Indiana four years ago, said Democrats have since tried to connect with many of the new 2008 Democrat primary voters, only to be rebuffed. He presumes that's because they're really Republicans.

Tew believes similar crossover could occur in Tuesday's primary, as Democrats who have supported Lugar in past general elections take a GOP ballot to try to prevent Mourdock – a tea party favorite – from gaining the nomination and perhaps ultimately the seat.

In fact, Tew said that if Lugar wins on Tuesday, he will have Democrats to thank.

Indeed, the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll found that self-described conservative voters were far more likely to support Mourdock than they were Lugar. Moderate GOP voters, on the other hand, were more likely to support Lugar.

That means Lugar needs more moderates to show up on Tuesday to have any chance of winning.

But there are only a couple places to find more moderates – from independents who don't normally vote in the primary and from conservative Democrats willing to cross over.

Unfortunately for Lugar – if the Howey/DePauw poll is to be believed – droves of Democrats will have to cross over to make up for Mourdock's 10 percentage point lead.

And while Democrats have few interesting races on their primary ballot, it still seems unlikely that a Senate race – especially one so filled with negative campaigning – will inspire thousands of Democrats to pull GOP ballots.

But it's possible. And on Friday, Lugar was essentially encouraging folks to do just that. He called on farmers and minority Hoosiers and women to show up at the polls on Tuesday and help him to victory.

Should he pull it out, I think I agree with Kip Tew: He'll have Democrats to thank.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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