McLaughlin Associates, polling for the Richard Mourdock campaign (April 16-17; 400 likely Indiana Republican primary voters), projects that Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R) has fallen into a one-point deficit in his battle for renomination. According to the data, state treasurer Mourdock (R) leads the six-term senator 42-41 percent among the small sample of likely May 8 GOP primary voters.
The significance of the poll is not so much the ballot test result, but what lies in the trends leading to that finding. Since McLaughlin’s last poll (Jan. 18-19), the race has swung a net 13 points in Mourdock’s favor (Mourdock up 6; Lugar down 7), despite Mourdock being outspent 3:1. Lugar’s heavy negative attacks against Mourdock are a further indication that the senator’s own survey research suggests the same trend.
Potentially more troubling for Sen. Lugar in what is likely to be a relatively low-turnout primary election – mostly because the Republican presidential campaign is virtually decided – is the split among polling respondents who have an opinion of both candidates. Within this sample cell, Mourdock has a commanding 55-36 percent lead.
What likely plays to Lugar’s advantage, however, is the open primary law. In Indiana, as in many states where voters do not register by political party, a qualified individual requests the party ballot for which he or she wants to vote. Therefore, people beyond the group of self-identified Republicans are eligible to participate. Since the Democrats do not have many contested primary races, individuals who normally vote Democratic or consider themselves non-affiliated could conceivably participate in this election. Part of the Lugar campaign strategy is to swell the GOP turnout rolls with voters from these two groups since the senator’s appeal to them is relatively strong while Mourdock’s is poor.