13 Days to Election Day: Indiana

There is a whole slate of races on the Indiana ballot this year. As regards the presidential election, Indiana barely gave the state to Obama in 2008- by less than 29,000 votes. In politics, that is not a difficult number to flip to the other side. And that is what will happen in Indiana this year. In 2004, Kerry won only four counties- LaPorte, Lake, Marion and Monroe. Besides taking these four in 2008, Obama also grabbed another 11 counties which basically created the narrow margin of victory. Three of those 11 counties are on the border with conservative Kentucky and three more are on the southern conservative Illinois border. Not only will Obama lose these, but also likely Madison and Delaware counties in 2012. Expect Romney to win Indiana’s 11 electoral votes with about 55% of the vote.

The popular and effective Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, is term limited and will step down. There was no secret that current Republican congressman Mike Pence, a Tea Party favorite, would make a run for Governor. The only question was who his opponent would be. The Democratic Party essentially cleared the deck for former Indiana house speaker John Gregg. He is the last of d dying breed of southern Indiana Democrats who are socially conservative and economically populist. For his running mate, he chose the very liberal Vi Simpson. It will be very difficult for Gregg to overcome Pence. In fundraising alone, Pence enjoys a huge advantage. Because of his position in the GOP, he has a network of donors nationwide. Of course, Gregg can use that to his advantage, but it will likely be for naught. Hence, the Governor’s office will remain in Republican hands. And most people believe Pence’s run is merely a prelude for a run at a higher office somewhere down the line.

The Senate race has been more than interesting this year mainly on the GOP side. Incumbent Richard Lugar long realized that there would be a serious primary challenge this year. Part of the problem was his general ignorance of the impending problems. In 2011, he jokingly stated how early the campaign was starting to unseat him. There were several issues which the Tea Party objected to in Lugar’s recent tenure. The first was his vote for TARP. Secondly, his votes in favor of confirming Kagan and Sotomayor to the Supreme Court irked some people as did his co-sponsorship of the DREAM Act. The final straw was his support of the new START treaty with Russia which many viewed as a dangerous sell-out. Additionally, they were critical of his tendency for compromise. While it is true that Lugar may have been one of the most respected members of the Senate, many felt he drifted too far from his conservative principles and that he had to go.

For his part, Lugar did not help his case with the Tea Party and often dismissed their clout. He referred to them a group long on cliches but short on specifics. He once told the Tea Party to “get real” in response to their criticism of the START vote. Perhaps if Lugar had been more compromising and bipartisan with members of his own party, then he could have made amends. It was a critical miscalculation on his part and he deserved to lose.

State treasurer Richard Mourdock not only secured Tea Party support from Indiana and elsewhere, but he beat Lugar in the primary. Make that trounced Lugar. Of 662,000 votes cast, Mourdock captured 400,000 of them. When a trouncing of this magnitude occurs, it not only grassroots mobilization as the cause, but a general across the board rejection of Lugar. But his defeat is a double-edged sword since Mourdock will need those 262,000 votes that went to Lugar if he wishes to win the general election. Lugar has recently endorsed Mourdock and after the primary, Mourdock reached out an olive branch to the GOP establishment.

However, a strange thing has happened in the build up to that general election. Joe Donnelly, his Democratic opponent, faced no opposition in their primary and focused on fundraising. Hailing from a rather conservative district, Donnelly barely won reelection in 2010 with less than 50% of the vote. Despite being considered a moderate, he did nevertheless vote for the Obama stimulus, Frank-Dodd, and Obamacare. In fact, when given the chance to repeal Obamacare, he did not. Overall, he voted with his party 67% of the time.

Despite an early advantage, Mourdock has since surpassed Donnelly in fundraising. Outside group spending in this race has already exceeded $10 million about evenly split. As a result of some recent polls, Mourdock has somewhat toned down his rhetoric. He is trying to align himself with Mitch Daniels. He realizes that although he may have a Lugar endorsement, there are many of those 262,000 voters not willing to show support. Even his views on entitlement reform and Obamacare have mellowed. This has Democrats believing that some panic has set in.

The tendency in Indiana, like many midwestern states, is towards a split senatorial delegation. With a Republican already replacing Bayh in 2010, this may not bode well for Mourdock. In the battle for the Senate, most pundits zero in on Massachusetts, Virginia, and Maine, but ignore Indiana to their peril.

In a real sense, the battle in Indiana is a microcosm of the battle between Tea Party elements and establishment Republicans nationally. This battle will be on-going. Indiana is more comfortable with the button down type of Republican a la Daniels or Lugar. This writer believes that Mourdock will benefit from the coat tails of Romney and prevail this year by a 52-48 advantage. Then again, pollsters were predicting a tight race in the primary that never materialized.

There are three congressional districts of interest and redistricting plays some role here. For example, the Democratic held 1st District actually became more Democratic by shedding more conservative territory south of Gary. Thus, Pete Visclosky is assured reelection. The three important races are the 2nd, 5th and 6th. In the vacant 2nd (Donnelly’s seat), Brendan Mullen will try to keep this area in control for the Democrats. He considers himself a moderate and has received support from what is left of the Blue Dog Coalition. He ran into an ethical glitch earlier when it was discovered he received homestead rebates for different home in Washington and Indiana. He will go up against former Indiana legislator Jackie Walorsky who just barely lost to Donnelly in 2010. She has received Tea Party backing and an endorsement from Sarah Palin and is the favorite to win this race.

In the 5th, incumbent Republican Dan Burton has faced some tough primary battles in his recent past. Susan Brooks announced her intentions to challenge Burton, but he opted for retirement instead. Brooks is the GOP candidate. In a crowded 8-person Republican primary field, he only received 30% of the vote. She is a former deputy mayor of Indianapolis and US Attorney. She will run against state house member Scott Reske who received 63% of the vote in his primary against union leader Tony Long. He describes himself as a moderate (don’t they all?) and in 2008 was one of a handful of Indiana Democrats who refused to endorse Obama. The bottom line is that Brooks will take this race. The Fifth district shrunk in size and became more conservative and comprises the suburbs north and east of Indianapolis.

Mike Pence vacates the 6th district to run for Governor. The 6th is a large portion of the southeast corner of the state from the Ohio/Kentucky borders to the suburbs of Indianapolis. His likely heir apparent will be Republican Luke Messer. In 2010, Messer lost a bitter primary challenge in the 5th District against Dan Burton and he only lost by 2,000 votes. Messer will face token Democratic opposition in the form of Delaware county council member Brad Bookout.

In conclusion: Romney takes the 11 electoral votes at stake her while Mourdock will win a relatively close election to keep the seat in GOP hands. In the House, Republicans will pick up one seat- in the Second District- and Mike Pence will be the next Governor of Indiana.

Running totals thus far: Obama still leads in the electoral vote count 206-181 while Republicans control the Senate 39-37. In the House, Republicans lead 161-147.

Next: Massachusetts