Category Archives: Senate

Lugar Trounced in Indiana

The final weeks of the Indiana Senatorial campaign showed six-term Sen. Dick Lugar spiraling downward in his Republican primary battle with state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and it ended last night with an emphatic 61-39 percent victory in the challenger’s favor. Turnout exceeded 665,000 voters, which is high. This is nowhere near the 1.2 million plus voters who participated in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, but much more than the 412,000 who voted in the Republican presidential primary of that same year.

The general election will now feature Mourdock and Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) who was unopposed in last night’s Democratic primary. The Republican outcome now suggests a competitive race here in the fall, though Mourdock is a much stronger candidate than those conservative challengers who defeated 2010 Republican incumbents or nomination favorites in various states, and then proceeded to lose their respective general elections.

Though President Obama became the first Democrat to carry Indiana since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it does not appear the state will be a major target in 2012. In fact, Indiana isn’t even on the first list of states where the President’s campaign is buying television advertising time. That translates to less of a boost for Donnelly as we turn toward November.

The biggest Indiana surprise of the evening, however, was former Rep. David McIntosh (R), the favorite coming into Indiana’s open 5th District primary race, failing to win his party’s nomination. He lost a 30-29 percent decision to ex-US Attorney Susan Brooks. Ms. Brooks is also an Indianapolis former deputy mayor. She will be the heavy favorite to defeat state Rep. Scott Reske who won the Democratic nomination.

As expected, former state Rep. Luke Messer was an easy winner in the 6th District Republican open seat primary. He becomes the prohibitive favorite to replace Rep. Mike Pence in November. Pence, unopposed tonight, is now the state’s official GOP gubernatorial nominee. In Donnelly’s open 2nd District, as expected, Democratic businessman Brendan Mullen will face former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) in a competitive general election. Because of redistricting, Walorski has to be considered at least a slight favorite. All other Indiana incumbents won renomination last night.

Poll Shows Trouble in Indiana

Two ominous signals, both suggesting Sen. Dick Lugar’s impending defeat in today’s Indiana Republican primary, surfaced over the weekend.

First, the Democratic polling firm of Garin Hart Yang Research teamed up with Republican Bellwether Research on behalf of DePauw University to survey 700 likely Indiana Republican primary voters over the April 30-May 1 period. They detected a major swing toward GOP Senatorial challenger Richard Mourdock. According to the results, Mourdock leads Lugar by a huge 48-38 percent margin. Among people who said they had definitely made up their minds, Mourdock led 37-30 percent. The pollsters found Lugar to be saddled with a 43:43 percent positive to negative impression as compared to Mourdock’s 47:25 percent. Lugar releases no counter polling data of his own, itself a telling indication of where the race is headed.

Secondly, the senator made a weekend public statement encouraging all to vote in the open primary that illuminates desperation. “I’m just saying positively register your vote, because if you do not, I may not be able to continue serving you. At this point, help.”

The winner of today’s primary contest faces Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) in the general election in what now must be considered a competitive campaign irrespective of tonight’s outcome.

Our Indiana Primary Preview

Tuesday features two congressional primary elections: Indiana and North Carolina. Today, we preview the Indiana races; on Monday, North Carolina.

Governor: Incumbent Mitch Daniels (R) is term-limited, so an open-seat contest will occur in the fall. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN-6) and former state House Speaker John Gregg (D) will be the general election combatants, with Pence beginning the race as a heavy favorite.

Senate: We all know that six-term Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who ran unopposed just six years ago, is in the fight for his political life against fellow Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. The race has been hard-fought, with each man and their outside group supporters running a spate of negative ads. The focal points have been Lugar straying too far from his conservative base, the fact that he does not have a residence in Indiana, and that he has lost touch with his Hoosier State roots. Lugar counters with criticism of the way Mourdock has managed both the taxpayers’ public funds and his office.

The key to determining a victor in this contest, as is most often the case, is turnout. Indiana has an open primary law, meaning any registered voter, regardless of previous primary voting history, may participate in the party primary of his or her choice. Therefore, with little in the way of contested campaigns in the Democratic primary, it is likely the preponderance of voters will choose to cast their ballot on the Republican side. This could affect the Senate race in two ways: first, Democrats and Independents supportive of Lugar can vote for him and potentially provide enough of a margin to overcome Mourdock’s strong support among conservatives; second, activist Democrats, believing that Mourdock would be the weaker candidate in the general election against consensus Dem candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2), could vote for the challenger and potentially weaken the non-Republican support that Lugar might attract.

Tuesday will host a close race with several uncontrollable factors positioned to decide the final outcome. It’s too close to call.

  • IN-1: Rep. Peter Visclosky (D) is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
  • IN-2: This is an open seat, with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) running for Senate. The open seat battle will be hot and heavy in November, but Tuesday’s vote looks secure for Republican former state Rep. Jackie Walorski and Democratic businessman Brendan Mullen.
  • IN-3: Freshman Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R) is unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary and will find out which of six Democrats will win the right to oppose him in November. This should be a relatively easy re-election run for Stutzman.
  • IN-4: Freshman Rep. Todd Rokita (R), Indiana’s former Secretary of State, gains 35 percent new territory but the Obama number is only 45 percent. He is safe in November.
  • IN-5: Rep. Dan Burton (R) is retiring, making this an open seat. With 30-year veteran Rep. Burton not seeking a 16th term, eight Republicans, including former congressman and 2000 gubernatorial nominee David McIntosh (R-IN-2), vie for the new 5th District. McIntosh is the clear favorite to win the nomination. Democratic state Rep. Scott Reske is favored for his party’s nomination.
  • IN-6: Rep. Mike Pence (R) is running for governor, making this an open seat. Seven Republicans and five Democrats are running for the right to succeed Pence, with Tuesday’s GOP nominee becoming the prohibitive favorite in a district that gave 55 percent of its votes to John McCain in 2008. Former state representative and Republican Party executive director Luke Messer is the leading candidate for the nomination.
  • IN-7: Three Democrats, seven Republicans, and two Independents are opposing Rep. Andre Carson (D), but that’s rather irrelevant. The congressman will win again in November.
  • IN-8: First-term southwestern district congressman, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R), faces a Republican primary opponent, Kristi Risk, who held Bucshon to only a 33-29 percent victory margin two years ago. But Bucshon is the favorite in a district that contains 88 percent of his previous constituency. Democrats will nominate former state representative and broadcaster Dave Crooks.
  • IN-9: Five Democrats, none of whom had even raised $100,000 prior to the two-week financial reporting deadline, are fighting for the right to take on yet another Indiana freshman congressman, southeastern district Rep. Todd Young (R). This shouldn’t be much of a contest in the fall, as Rep. Young is cruising toward a second term.

Sen. Lugar Back in Front

A new Magellan Strategies poll (May 1; 400 likely Indiana GOP primary voters) for the Lunch Pail Republicans, an outside group supporting Sen. Richard Lugar, gives the embattled six-term incumbent a 44-42 percent lead over challenger Richard Mourdock, the Indiana state Treasurer. As a cautionary note, this is a one day poll with a small statewide sample, but Magellan had a stellar record in predicting 2010 victories. The good news here for Lugar is that his downward trend over the past several weeks may have ended. The bad news is he is still considerably below 50 percent, the mark that most analysts and politicos use as the benchmark to determine incumbent strength.

It is now becoming almost an accepted fact that Lugar is likely to lose Tuesday’s primary, as his polling numbers have long been lagging and the attacks he and his supporters have launched against Mourdock suggest that the Lugar internal data confirms the public data. But Indiana utilizes an open primary system, meaning Independents and Democrats who request a Republican ballot may vote adding a wild card to Tuesday’s election. The turnout mechanism for both sides is also an unknown factor and could be what determines the final outcome.

The closeness of this race, regardless of whether Lugar or Mourdock wins, now means there will be a serious general election battle against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). It appears that Tuesday’s primary vote may only prove to sound the starting gun.

Tester, Heller Rebound in Montana and Nevada

Just-released polling data is bringing good news for two western senators. After trailing at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) by 2-3 points consistently since last June, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has clawed back into the Montana campaign lead according to Public Policy Polling. The survey of 934 Montana voters over the April 26-29 period gives the senator a 48-43 percent advantage over the GOP congressman.

This is obviously a positive result for Tester, a first-term senator who defeated incumbent Conrad Burns (R) by the closest statewide margin in the country six years ago – a difference of 2,847 votes. The timing of the poll compliments a new media push from Tester that features light, humorous commercials designed to promote a positive image. One of the ads plays upon Tester’s habit of bringing his own Montana steaks back with him to Washington. The ad shows Tester sending the steaks through the airport metal detectors and ends with the senator’s wife cooking him a meal in their Montana home. The theme of the ad reinforces Tester’s strategic point that the senator has not “gone Washington.”

It is not uncommon for a series of ads, particularly well-done, positive spots that are unchallenged, to drive polling data. The five-point Tester lead represents a seven-point swing from PPP’s Nov. 28-30 study. Rehberg was ahead 47-45 percent in the previous poll, meaning he has dropped four points while the senator gained three.

Turning to the southwest, in the similarly close Nevada senatorial contest between appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), Rasmussen Reports gives Heller his strongest showing of the cycle, a 51-40 percent spread against Ms. Berkley, as shown in their new April 30 poll (500 likely Nevada voters).

This is the third consecutive poll to show Sen. Heller with the advantage. He was up 46-43 percent in Public Policy Polling’s March 29-April 1 survey and 47-40 percent in Rasmussen’s March 19 study. Prior to March, Heller last led in data recorded in July 2011.

Nevada, unlike Montana, will be a presidential battleground state with an unstable electorate. Despite being the fastest growing state during the last decade (35 percent real growth rate), poor economic conditions have led to somewhat of an exodus from Nevada. How this will affect 2012 politics is open to question. Therefore, the presidential race’s progression and its effect on the turnout drive will have a lot to say about the final Senate results.

In the end, these two small states, Montana and Nevada, could be determining factors in deciding which party controls the Senate come 2013. The two highly competitive races will draw much national attention. The current volleys being traded among the candidates right now are only the beginning.

Is a Surprise Coming in the North Dakota Senate?

Since Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that he would not seek re-election this year, both Republican and Democratic election analysts forecasted that the GOP would convert the open seat. These rankings even held when a November poll gave Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general and defeated gubernatorial nominee, a five-point lead over at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) soon after she announced her candidacy. The results of a new just-released survey means the supposed Heitkamp advantage can no longer be dismissed.

DFM Research (April 18-26; 478 registered North Dakota voters), polling for the North Dakota Democratic Party, now stakes Heitkamp to a 49-44 percent lead over Berg. Though the long nine-day sampling period suggests reliability questions, the same polling sample returns a 51-32 percent lead for Mitt Romney over President Obama, thus largely dispelling claims of a Democratic skew. Furthermore, though Berg and the Republicans have reported investing campaign dollars into polling, no public releases have yet been forthcoming. This again suggests that Heitkamp leading is an accurate depiction of where the race stands today.

Much will happen between now and Election Day to alter the outcome of this Senate race, and Berg is still in good position to win when considering the state’s voting history in presidential elections. But, it is now clear that the North Dakota Senate race can no longer be considered an easy Republican win and we can expect a competitive general election campaign.

Lugar Trailing in Indiana

Wenzel Strategies, polling for the Citizens United organization (April 24-25; 601 registered Indiana voters), projects that Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has fallen behind Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock 39-44 percent in their statewide Republican primary battle. Entering the home stretch, both campaigns and their outside supporters are in high gear. Expect this mode to continue until the May 8 primary.

Lugar predictably criticized the accuracy of the Wenzel poll, but fails to release any countering data of his own. This, in spite of him reporting $74,000 in polling expenditures during the last quarter and a further five-figure investment with the National Research, Inc. company in April. The action suggests that the senator’s own survey research is returning numbers similar to those already in the public domain.

Wenzel Strategies’ president, Fritz Wenzel, while pointing to the fact that Lugar expressed no dissatisfaction with their previous poll that showed the senator leading, publicly retorted that, “It goes without saying that we stand strongly behind our polling in Indiana, as we do with every survey we conduct. [Sen.] Lugar’s denial of the reality these numbers portray is tantamount to denying the voice of Republican voters across Indiana who are certainly indicating they are hungry for a change.”

In addition to both candidates running attack ads against the other, outside organizations are spending heavily, as well. The American Action Network launched negative ads against Mourdock criticizing his investment decisions as state treasurer. The Club for Growth announced a $412,000 media buy that began this week in opposition to the incumbent. The spot ties Lugar to the President as being “Barack Obama’s favorite Republican” and makes the case that the senator has lost touch with Indiana after 35 years of service in Washington.

This campaign has now turned into a major national political affair with another veteran incumbent on the ropes before his own party’s electorate. The final 11 days of the race will very likely be the race determining period.