NASHVILLE, Ind. – With Colorado, Delaware and Nevada nagging reminders of how a Tea Party candidate can botch a Senate race - and a potential majority - Indiana Republicans remain in danger of losing a Senate seat, as nominee Richard Mourdock trails Democrat Joe Donnelly 40 to 38% in the latest Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll. Libertarian nominee Andrew Horning is pulling 7%, perhaps bleeding away crucial support for the candidate who upset U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in the May primary.
More troubling for Mourdock are his bad favorable/unfavorables, which stand at 26/32%, compared to 24/21% for Donnelly, and 39/18% for Republican gubernatorial nominee Mike Pence. Sen. Lugar’s stood at 49/27% in a pool that includes the entire electorate. In the first general election survey Howey/DePauw conducted in March, Mourdock’s fav/unfavs stood at 15/18%. He is also losing support in the Republican-rich doughnut counties around Indianapolis. His fav/unfavs in the doughnut counties are a troubling 18/43%. He leads Donnelly in the doughnut by only 36-32%.
In the other key races, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama 52-40%, with Indiana poised to rejoin the red state Electoral College column after Obama carried the 11 votes in his historic 2008 win.
And in the Indiana gubernatorial race, Republican Mike Pence has a comfortable 47-34% lead over Democrat John Gregg, close to the same margin he had in the first Howey/DePauw poll last March, when Pence led 44-31%. Libertarian Rupert Boneham polled 5%. The survey has a +/- margin of error at 3.5%.
The latest Howey/DePauw poll by Republican pollster Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research and Democrat pollster Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research, was conducted with 800 likely voters Sept. 19, 20 and 23. The poll included 43% Republicans and leaners, and 38% Democrats and leaners, while 19% were independents. Matthews notes that - literally - since the Democratic National Convention, the party affiliations are in a state of flux, even in Indiana, as some independents are now declaring themselves Democrats. “This is reflecting that something is happening out there,” Matthews said.
While cross tabs show Mourdock’s favorables stood at 45.5% with Republicans, only 18.4% of independents – the voting block likely to determine this race –  viewed him favorably while 32.4% were unfavorable. In comparison, 33.6% of independent voters found Pence favorable, and only 16% unfavorable. The difference is that Pence hasn’t had anywhere close to the amount of negative advertising aimed at him compared to Mourdock.
“There is no gender gap in the gubernatorial race; Mike Pence leads by 13 among both men and women,” observed Matthews. “Women support Romney by a 48%-41% margin over Obama, less than men, but in the same direction.  But, we do see a gender gap in the Senate race. Donnelly wins women by six (41%-35%), while Mourdock leads among men by four (42%-38%).”
Indiana Republicans took a historic gamble in the May primary when they traded 36-year veteran Lugar for Treasurer Mourdock, who galvanized a Tea Party base and GOP dissatisfaction over Lugar’s age and longevity to forge a historic upset. Lugar had a commanding 50-29% lead over Donnelly in the March HoweyDePauw poll.
But in the critical 48 hours after his primary win, Mourdock conducted several national TV interviews in which he continued the rhetoric that made him a Tea Party hero, but has left some Lugar supporters and independents unenthused about his candidacy. In interviews on CNN and MSNBC, Mourdock espoused his strident opposition to comprise with Democrats – unless they came to the Republican position – and bipartisanship. On an MSNBC interview, a smirking Mourdock said he enjoyed nothing more than “inflicting my opinion on someone else.”
It provided Donnelly, Indiana Democrats and supporting 527 Super PACs a cache of video that is now being used in TV ads against Mourdock.
In this Howey/DePauw poll, and others conducted by Rasmussen Reports, Global Strategies on behalf of Donnelly and Market Research conducted by the pro-Mourdock Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Mourdock has seen a steep drop-off from the level of support Romney and Pence enjoyed along with their double-digit leads. Mourdock’s support drops off 14% from Romney’s, and 9% from Pence’s in this survey, an indicator that Hoosier voters are prepared to split tickets at the top, as they did in 1988 when they supported the Bush/Quayle ticket but elected Democrat Evan Bayh governor, or in 1996 when the Dole/Kemp ticket carried Indiana while Democrat Frank O’Bannon upset Stephen Goldsmith in the gubernatorial race. In 2008, Gov. Mitch Daniels won reelection by an 18% margin, while Obama carried the state by 1%.
In this survey, Mourdock is polling only 71% of the Republican vote while Donnelly is getting 78.3% of the Democratic vote. Among Lugar primary voters, 60.3% are backing Mourdock, with 9.8% of those voters saying they could change their minds. Donnelly is polling 15.3% of Lugar primary voters. This indicates that Mourdock is coming up short in consolidating his GOP base. His campaign angered many Lugarites when a fundraising letter sent out shortly after the primary talked of Lugar’s “betrayal” of conservative causes. Other Republicans may opt for Horning, or “scratch” on the race, as a number of GOP mayors have told HPI.
The Mourdock campaign is acting rattled, restricting his schedule and media availability while attempting to change his core message. Sources say he has yet to agree to debate.
More troubling is that in addition to close to $4 million spent by Super PACs on Mourdock’s behalf prior to the primary, and a similar amount since, the two-term state treasurer is below the 40% threshold with less than 45 days before the Nov. 6 election. In an HPI interview with Club for Growth President Chris Chocola published on June 7, he predicted that polls after the primary would be Donnelly’s high-water mark. “I think Donnelly is going to face a very tough challenge,” Chocola said. “Mourdock is going to have a lot of friends, and I think that poll is about as good as Donnelly is going to be this cycle. That’s the high-water mark with him.” The problem is with this survey, Mourdock has actually regressed from May.
That dynamic became obvious after Labor Day when Mourdock attempted to ditch his anti-bipartisanship rhetoric with Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman insisting in a TV ad that Mourdock “will work with Republicans and Democrats.” The Indiana Bellwether Barometer – which monitors newspaper, TV, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other media outlets – published in the Sept. 20 edition of HPI by Matthews noted that Hoosier voters were skeptical about Mourdock’s tacking away from what had been his core issue. An AP story today calls it Mourdock’s “extreme makeover.”
Many Hoosier Republicans believe that Mourdock will ultimately win with what they expect will be an overwhelming GOP wave in the state. And while Romney’s 12% lead and Pence’s 13% advantage are robust, they come up short of what would be considered a landslide with coattails.
If there is a silver lining in this poll for Mourdock, it comes with the question: Do you support a candidate who voted for the $80 billion dollar federal loan to Chrysler and General Motors or a candidate who strongly opposed the $80 billion federal loan to Chrysler and GM. By a 47-40% margin, survey respondents backed the former over the latter, which matches Mourdock’s position when he filed suit against the Chrysler/Fiat merger in 2009. Cross tabulations show that Mourdock is carrying 70% who opposed the rescue, while Donnelly is carrying 65.9% who backed the bailout.
In the 5th CD – home of the largest Chrysler industrial complex at Kokomo – 46.9% supported the rescue while 42.8% opposed. In the neighboring 6th CD, 32.1% supported the rescue while 54.6% opposed. In Donnelly’s home congressional district (now without Kokomo) 36.6% supported the rescue and 51.9% opposed. But in Mourdock’s home 8th CD (with a big Toyota plant) 39.1% supported the rescue and 42.9% opposed. It’s intriguing that in the 3rd CD, where a GM truck plant and dozens of auto supplier companies, almost 60% oppose the auto rescue.
When it comes to the other big issue in the Senate race – entitlements – Hoosier voters are evenly split.
Howey/DePauw asked: Do you support a candidate who says Social Security and Medicare will become bankrupt and jeopardize the retirement security of future generations without immediate reforms? The poll shows that 42% support that position, which aligns with Mourdock. When we asked do you support a candidate who opposes any move to reform Medicare and Social Security that will reduce benefits for current retirees or change the structure of the system? 43% backed the position that is aligned more with Donnelly. The Donnelly and Mourdock campaigns and their Super PAC supporters have waged an intense TV war over this issue.
The other opening for Mourdock could come if Super PACs like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS come to the conclusion that Mitt Romney is going to lose to Obama, and they steer money into shoring up Senate and House races. There is a scenario where Mourdock could find several million more dollars dumped into his out-sourced campaign. The bookend to that is such a scenario might allow the Obama campaign to also help in Senate races if it believes his reelect is a lock. Obama ads touting the auto rescue - which have put his campaign on a frontrunner footing in neighboring Michigan and Ohio - could have an impact in Indiana where it hasn’t spent much money, and give Donnelly tailwind. Horse Race Status: Tossup

While Indiana Democrats were shopping an unsubstantiated survey saying that Romney was leading Obama by only 6%, the Howey/DePauw poll shows the Republican comfortably ahead, though not nearly as big a lead as some Republicans had been saying. Romney’s 52-40% lead over Obama came after a controversial tape was leaked showing Romney saying he had little hope of getting 47% of Obama backers who view the federal government as providing food, shelter and health care. The survey was also conducted after the death of Chris Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, who was murdered in a terror assault.
Obama is carrying just 35.2% of the Hoosier white vote, but he is capturing 95.2% of the African-American vote and 71.8% of the “non-white” vote which would include Latinos and Asians. That is an ominous long-term trend for Republicans as Latinos are the fastest growing voting block in Indiana. Romney is getting 56.3% of the white vote, and just 17.3% of the non-white vote. Romney is getting no African-American support.
On the Obamacare issue, 55% of Hoosier voters said they would support a candidate who would oppose the Affordable Care Act, while 37% say they would vote for a candidate who supports it. Only 8% don’t know.
On the right/wrong track numbers, there was a huge difference between the U.S. and Indiana’s. Both have a jobless rate between 8.1% and 8.3%. On the national track, 31.6% see the country not on the right track, and 59.6% say it is on the wrong track. Romney and Mourdock supporters see the national wrong track in the 90th percentile. In the 8th CD, where Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon is facing a challenge from Democrat Dave Crooks, 68% see the nation on the wrong track and only 22% on the right track. But in Indianapolis’ 7th CD, 49.2% see the U.S. on the right track and 46.6% say the wrong track. Horse Race Status: Likely Romney

Pence is obviously benefitting from the perception that Indiana is in better shape and better managed than the nation. Gov. Mitch Daniels has an approval rating of 58%. On the Indiana right/wrong tracks, 58.6% see the state on the right track, and 28.9 on the wrong. Among independents, 52.7% view it on the right track, along with 47.6% of Democrats and 71.1% of Republicans. In John Gregg’s home 8th CD, the numbers are nearly flipped from the national track, with 62.1% seeing it on the right, and 26.2% on the wrong. Among Pence supporters, 73.6% view it on the right while just 42.8% of Gregg supporters do.
Contrary to speculation, Gregg is carrying the 8th CD, leading Pence 42.2% to 35.2%. But in the heavily Democrat 1st CD, Gregg just has a 40.9% to 37.4% lead over Pence. Democrats there tell HPI they are not impressed with Gregg’s hayseed TV ad campaign.
But Pence is drubbing Gregg with independent voters by a 40 to 20% margin, with Boneham polling 10%. Pence is also getting 80% of the Republican vote, while Gregg is getting just 68.9% of the Democratic vote. Horse Race Status: Likely Pence