Republicans reclaimed Indiana in the race for the White House and the Statehouse on Tuesday, but Democrats took a Senate seat that the GOP had held safely for decades.
Joe Donnelly, a three-term Democratic congressman from northern Indiana, beat Republican state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who dislodged longtime Sen. Richard Lugar after he was targeted by the tea party in the GOP primary.
But the GOP maintained control of the governor’s office as U.S. Rep. Mike Pence won over Democrat John Gregg, winning support from voters who believed Pence was the right person to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Mitch Daniels.
“A lot of it for me is feeling comfortable with Pence continuing to carry on the initiatives put in place by Gov. Daniels,” said Joe Reece, 34, an Indianapolis software salesman.
Donnelly drew some of his votes from former Lugar supporters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Mourdock.
In May, Republican Richard Mourdock did something back that no Democrat had been able to do for 38 years: Defeat Richard Lugar.
Mourdock, Indiana’s tough talking state treasurer, described Lugar as President Barack Obama’s favorite Republican during the primary earlier this year. Mourdock said Lugar’s bipartisan approach was hurting the nation and forcing it deeper into debt.
That stance was music to the ears of Hoosiers tied to the Tea party, who had grown tired of Lugar’s moderate ways since he won the U.S. Senate seat in 1976. Mourdock also challenged Lugar’s residency in the state pointing out that Indiana’s senior Senator spent most of his time living and working in Washington, DC. Those issues became too much for Lugar to overcome and he fell to Mourdock.
But Mourdock’s win also gave Democrats like Joe Donnelly, a Congressman from South Bend, an opportunity to beat a Republican other than Lugar.
Donnelly and Mourdock had been running neck and neck for weeks, forcing both candidates to try and claim Sen. Lugar’s mantle of bipartisanship. But the race widened two weeks ago, after the final debate between the two candidates. In response to a question about their stance on abortion, Donnelly said he only favored abortion if a woman’s life is in jeopardy, or as a result of incest or rape.
Mourdock, who is staunchly against abortion, says if a pregnancy happens even in the course of rape, that it’s something that God intended. The controversial comment drew national attention and even Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who had produced a TV ad supporting Mourdock, tried to distance himself from the remarks and said he disagreed with Mourdock.
Mourdock issued a statement to clarify his stance and alleged that Donnelly and others had “twisted” his words.
But according to the polls, the damage may already be done. Ironically, if Donnelly wins the seat, he will have done so without much help from Obama.
Obama won Indiana four years, becoming the first Democrat to do so in 44 years. But Obama isn’t likely to repeat that victory today. As Obama has dropped in the polls here Donnelly has tried to distance himself from the president during the campaign. Donnelly is on the record as supporting Obama’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, and re-affirmed he will vote for the president.