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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

May 6, 2012 at 7:55 AM

Tea Party poised for tectonic upset in Indiana Senate race

PAC rally for Mourdock

Ginni Schneider grabbed new GOP primary frontrunner Richard Mourdock for a hug at Tea Party rally in downtown Indianapolis on May 5, 2012. (Photo by Thor Tolo/UW Election Eye)

Richard Mourdock has surged past six-term incumbent U.S. Senator Dick Lugar in the latest poll ahead of Indiana’s GOP primary on Tuesday. UWEE caught up with the Indiana Tea Party favorite on his Saturday afternoon stroll of Indiana’s Veterans Memorial Plaza in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS –  All signs suggest legendary Sen. Dick Lugar is going to lose Tuesday in a nationally watched Republican Party primary. That’s why I came to Indiana this weekend.

What I found was his likely conqueror, Richard Mourdock, walking around kissing babies and shaking hands with adults on Saturday at a Tea Party event. It was American retail politics at its best and most surreal.

Mourdock was prevented by Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules from appearing on stage at an event sponsored by the Political Action Committee (PAC) Freedom Works, but the FEC could not prevent Mourdock, the Indiana State Treasurer, from working the crowd at a Hoosier Conservatives Rally.

Certainly the government watchdog commission could not stop Mourdock from hugging Ginni Schneider, a loyal volunteer since before Mourdock’s most recent election to a two-year term as treasurer. “I love this man,” Schneider said with a big grin. “He’s Christian, he’s conservative, and he’s Republican. What more could we ask of him?”

In a scenario ripe for a “Daily Show” comedy skit critical of the Tea Party and PAC loopholes, Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin seemed ready to explode on the main stage because she was not able to point out Mourdock only a few yards away posing for pictures and signing autographs.

Mourdock — pronounced like Rupert’s last name — was unfazed. A widely respected poll released late Friday showed Mourdock enjoying a 10-point lead over Lugar, and Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman, have all provided endorsements.

“I’m so incredibly humbled by this turnout – this intra-party rebellion fueled by all these people who believe in the Tea Party,” Mourdock told me between a high five and kiss on the cheek of a woman standing next to him.

“I’ve run nine marathons in my life and when you make it to those last two miles, you stay steady. If you speed up, you cramp up. If you slow down, you run out of gas.”

What better metaphor could an Indiana politician have, with all those fast cars about to roar into town next weekend for the start of Indy 500 time trials?

This is the most hotly contested GOP primary race since Delaware Tea Partier Christine O’Donnell felt compelled to convince us she’s not a witch.

David Holt Jr. & Sr.

"Dick Lugar has always been good to us," said David Holt, Jr. (left), whose father David Sr. nodded in agreement during a walk-along interview on May 4, 2012. (Photo by Thor Tolo/UW Election Eye)

About 40 blocks to the north of the rally, Lugar has avid supporters from almost every walk of life — including a disabled father and son who said they won’t consider voting for anybody but Lugar in November. The reason they won’t consider voting for Lugar on Tuesday is because both are registered Democrats.

“Oh my, I remember Dick Lugar since he became mayor here back in ’67,” said David Holt Jr., whose father, David Sr., has to use a walker wherever they go on their evening strolls. “He’s always been such a strong supporter of Indiana, helping us out whenever he gets the chance. I think he has earned his seat.”

It’s a theme I heard time and again as I made my way through the upper, middle, and lower income neighborhoods north of Indianapolis. A young man living along Hampton Street was walking out his front door to work when I parked my rental car across the street.

“Lugar? He’s the man,” said Josh Padgett. “Everybody loves him. He’s been in office forever [since 1976] and has done more for Indiana than anyone I know.”

Young and old. Rich and poor. Black and white. Democrat and Republican. In these neighborhoods Lugar was revered.

But it’s a sentiment that Tea Party voters do not share. Not even close. Mourdock? He’s their man.

Running on a bare-bones budget during his successful campaign for reelection as state treasurer in 2010, Mourdock stunned political junkies across the country by carrying 62% of St. Joseph County – the home of U.S. Representative Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who will oppose either Mourdock or Lugar in November.

Tea Party hopes are higher than ever that Mourdock’s soft-spoken demeanor will be more attractive to Indiana’s independent voters than that of Lugar, an 80-year-old moderate who MSNBC called President Obama’s “favorite Republican.”

Nothing riles up hardcore Tea Partiers more than anyone willing to even consider working with Obama — even when it’s a powerful incumbent like Lugar, who has brought tens of millions of dollars in earmarks to this Norman Rockwell portrait of a state sandwiched between Illinois and Ohio.

Darryl Herbertz

Darryl Herbertz of Louisville, Kentucky would have needed a shirt for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, but it was good enough for the Mourdock rally on May 5, 2012. (Photo by Thor Tolo/UW Election Eye)

“I don’t trust any word that comes out of Lugar’s mouth,” said Darryl Herbertz, who drove all the way from Louisville, Kentucky to cheer on his Tea Party favorite.

“He’s always pushing [the U.S.] into these United Nations treaties in violation of his own oath of office. He’s trying to sell our national security to foreigners. The guy is totally repulsive.”

Lugar has been politically hurt by a problematic legal residency issue. His primary residence in McLean, Virginia, and he needed the Indiana Supreme Court to rule that Lugar’s ownership of a family farm near Indianapolis qualified him to vote in the state. Tea Party pressure led to Lugar’s reimbursement of $14,000 for weekend hotel stays around Indiana when he comes to the state.

In the last days before Tuesday’s Republican primary, Lugar has unleashed millions of dollars in withering attack ads. To which Mourdock said this: “If certain people in this state want to try to divide America, well, we’re greater than that as a country.” A few minutes later, a preacher prayed on stage for God’s favor in defeating Lugar this Tuesday.

A sign of just how bruising this campaign has become for Mourdock came toward the end of our five-minute conversation 30 yards north of the main stage.

“What all of these volunteers have done…” Mourdock’s voice halted, his eyes misting over. “I’ve had moments at home with my family where I just think about how far this campaign has come. It’s humbling to have so many great people around me as we fight for this victory.”

0 Comments | More in National | Topics: Christine O'Donnell, Dick Lugar, Federal Election Commission

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