JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana (Reuters) - Indiana Republicans last spring spurned long-time Senator Richard Lugar for a more conservative candidate, but now supporters of the soft-spoken moderate may tip the balance in the race that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Republican Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, and his Democratic opponent, Congressman Joe Donnelly, are wooing not just independent voters but disaffected and angry “Lugar Republicans.”
“Dick Lugar is a statesman,” said Karl Stein, 63, a Republican, as he was walking the dog near Indianapolis. “I don’t like the way he was thrown under the bus after all he’s done for Indiana.”
Republicans need a net gain of four seats to win a Senate majority, or three if Republican Mitt Romney wins the White House because his vice president would cast tie-breaking Senate votes. Republicans began 2012 in a strong position, with Democrats defending 23 of 33 seats up for election, but have suffered some self-inflicted wounds.
In Missouri, Republican candidate Todd Akin prompted an uproar by saying women’s bodies have defenses against pregnancy after “legitimate rape,” and now trails in the race.
Republican candidates also are facing tougher-than-expected contests in Arizona and North Dakota as well as Indiana.
Mourdock has been hit by Democrats attacking his “extreme” Tea Party movement views - lower taxes, fewer regulations and massive spending cuts - plus his televised remarks after the primary that “bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
“It wasn’t easy for a lot of Hoosiers to see Lugar defeated after a slashing campaign,” said Marjorie Hershey, a politics professor at the University of Indiana, using the term Indiana natives call themselves. “Mourdock didn’t help himself after the primary by taking a very hard line.”