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The Bigger Picture Of Indiana's Senate Race


From Wisconsin, we head over to Indiana, where this week, six-term Republican Senator Richard Lugar lost by a landslide to State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was supported by the Tea Party.

Now, Senator Lugar was known for working with senators on the other side of the aisle to pass legislation. That may not be the political flavor of the month in his party or his state.

For more, we're joined now by Brian Howey, a political analyst, pollster and author of the Howey Politics Indiana newsletter. He joins us from Nashville, Indiana.

Mr. Howey, thanks so much for being with us.

BRIAN HOWEY: Oh, it's a pleasure. Thanks.

SIMON: Help us get to know a little bit more about Richard Mourdock, who is obviously even before this week is very well known in Indiana. Here's what he said this week to a national audience on Fox News about bipartisanship.

RICHARD MOURDOCK: Well, I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.

SIMON: So what does a statement like that suggest to the campaign ahead?

HOWEY: Well, that played to the Republican electorate and we only had the 19 percent turnout at the primary. I'm not sure how that message is going to go with independent voters and Democrats. To win an election in Indiana, even though we're a red state, you have to have a sliver of Democrats and win a majority of independents. And in the second Howey/DePauw Poll that we conducted at the end of April and the first day of May, we asked a basically Republican audience whether they wanted the senator to go to Washington to get things done and work across the aisle, or to be an ideologue, and by a 60 to a 33 percent margin, the former won out of the latter. So I think Richard Mourdock is going to have a tough time conveying that message to an electorate that he's going to need to get over the top.

SIMON: The Democrats sense opportunity to pick up a seat?

HOWEY: Absolutely. You know, the first Howey/DePauw Poll we conducted, Lugar had a lead over Donnelly of 50 to 29, but against Richard Mourdoch it was tied at 35 percent. So I think we've got a real race coming up here in the fall.

SIMON: Are there other Republicans in Indiana of - if I might refer to it this way - the Lugar stripe - who should be looking, who are looking over their shoulders now?

HOWEY: Well, none of this stripe. It seems like most of the congressional delegation is more conservative than Sen. Lugar is. Dan Coats won a Senate seat two years ago in which he had very similar residency issues. He lived in Virginia and had to move back and that didn't seem to get his campaign in trouble. So I don't really see anybody that's going to be on the hot seat like Sen. Lugar was this past year and spring.

SIMON: What should we understand about Indiana, Mr. Howey, as the campaign goes forward?

HOWEY: Well, Hoosier voters over the past decade have not hesitated to throw the bums out. Since the new - the maps that were created after the 2000 census began in 2002, we've seen a sitting governor defeated, five members of Congress, we've seen the Indiana House of Representatives switch parties three times. We've had 40 percent of our mayors in 2007 that were defeated in their reelection. And now Sen. Lugar. We had Bart Peterson, the mayor of Indianapolis, lose. So I think incumbents are on notice that if you don't perform like the taxpayers want, they will not hesitate to throw you out of office.

SIMON: I'm intrigued by the fact that given the results in the Republican Senate primary this week, both Democrats and - if you please, Tea Party Republicans - feel emboldened.

HOWEY: Absolutely. I mean, the Indiana Democrats feel like they've been handed a gift from heaven. They thought they were going to have a real tough time defeating Sen. Lugar, and then (technical difficulty) said obviously Lugar had wide support. So they feel like they've got an early Christmas gift. So again, we're going to have a very intense race this fall. There's going to be a lot of national money coming in and a lot of activism on the ground. And I guess that's the essence of democracy.

SIMON: Brian Howey, political analyst and author of the Howey Politics Indiana newsletter, speaking to us from along a roadside in rural Indiana. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Howey.

HOWEY: Oh, thank you. Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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