INDIANAPOLIS – Fourteen months ago Richard Mourdock held an endorsing Tea Party audience at Greenfield rapt in his history lesson, and his call to arms. A woman seated nearby at the Hancock County Courthouse watched in wonderment. “He is soooo good,” she said.
And then there was New Albany, Oct. 23, 2012, where Mourdock, in a tactical political sense, was soooooo bad. Mourdock was in a dead heat race with Democrat Joe Donnelly, six months after his epic landslide upset of U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar. With every known poll showing the race within the margin of error, Mourdock waited 45 minutes in this debate before uttering the words that would define a U.S. Senate race in a Todd Akin déjà vu moment, and possibly alter majority control: “ . . . even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”
The results of the final Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll reveal how fateful those words were. In an Oct. 28-30 survey of 800 likely Hoosier voters (+/-3.5%), Mourdock now trails Democrat Joe Donnelly 47-36%. Libertarian Andrew Horning had 6% and 11% were undecided. The numbers include voters who will definitely vote for the candidates, lean toward the candidate, or support but could change their mind prior to next Tuesday’s election. The survey included 45% Republican, 34% Democrat and 21% independent. It reached 27% of respondents via cell phone and the rest via landlines.
The survey, conducted by Republican pollster Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research and Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research – both with extensive polling backgrounds in Indiana – paints a snapshot of an upstart candidate who now has the distinct chance of blowing a U.S. Senate seat that would likely have been solidly in the Republican column had Lugar won the nomination.
“Joe Donnelly will be the next U.S. Senator,” Yang observed, noting that many had questioned the impact of debates. In both the Indiana Senate race and the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, candidate debate performance impacted the two races. Yang also said the final margin is likely to change in the next four days prior to Tuesday’s election. “Candidates do matter; campaigns do matter.”
In the first Howey/DePauw head-to-heads in this race taken in late March, Lugar led Donnelly 50-29% while Donnelly and Mourdock were deadlocked at 35%. The Donnelly-Mourdock race remained within the margin of error of every media, internal and advocacy group poll prior to the fateful Oct. 23 debate in New Albany.
To statistically quantify what a disaster Mourdock’s quote was, Howey/DePauw asked respondents: Are you aware or unaware of comments Richard Mourdock made during the final Senate debate regarding his views on abortion in the case of rape?
The survey revealed that 87% were aware of Mourdock’s remark and 13% were not.
The survey then asked: Did what he had to say on this make you more likely or less likely to vote for Richard Mourdock, or did it not make much difference in your decision?
Six percent said it made them more likely to vote for Mourdock, 40% said less likely, and 54% said no difference. Cross tabulations reveal that among women, 5% were more likely to vote for Mourdock over the remark and 44% were less likely; among independents it was 3/44% and in the doughnut counties around Indianapolis, it was 4/28%.
One prominent Republican and early backer of Mourdock said of the debate fiasco, “I thought Richard was killing it up to the screw up. I can’t believe that given two years to think up answers, several months since the Missouri Senate screw up and just basic debate prep, this was the best he could do.” The Republican source added, “This has got to be the worst campaign staff ever. I think you will find the average Republican shaking his head and still voting for Mourdock.”
But the Howey/DePauw poll reveals that Mourdock has not consolidated his GOP base. He is only polling 70% of the Republican vote, an indicator that he never brought in the Lugar wing of the GOP, nor did the campaign attempt to try, instead sending out a post-primary fundraising letter citing Lugar’s “betrayal” to conservatives. In our September survey, Mourdock was polling only 71% of the GOP. And in the second most vital voting bloc, Mourdock is getting only 17% of the vital independent vote, compared to 51% for Donnelly. Mourdock is only polling 31.5% of the female vote and just 77% of his base, the Tea Party.
When Howey/DePauw asked: In the past week or so, has your opinion of Richard Mourdock become (rotate) more favorable, 11% responded yes. Less favorable: 43%; and stayed the same was 46%.
And when it came to the candidate favorable/unfavorables, Mourdock’s stood at a distinctly troublesome 30/49%, compared to the Sept. 23-25 Howey/DePauw survey where he stood at 26/32%. In the Republican-rich doughnut counties, his fav/unfavs stood at 30/50%. With independent women he stood at 12/48% and with independent men, 23/51%. Donnelly’s fav/unfav in the doughnut was 36/32% and with independent women, 31/16%.
In the Indiana Congressional Districts, Mourdock has his strongest support in 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9th districts where he barely polls above 40%. Mourdock only has 29% support his home 8th district. In comparison, Donnelly leads in all districts except the 3rd and 4th.
Donnelly, on the receiving end of almost $14 million of negative advertising generated by Mourdock and his supporting Super PACs, stood at 36/31% fav/unfac, compared to 24/21% in September. Clearly, Donnelly fared better in the epic professional and character assaults waged on both candidates by Club For Growth, Crossroads GPS, Americans For Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Majority PAC and the two senatorial committees that are throwing the kitchen sink into this unprecedented Senate race.
Donnelly, who upset U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola in 2006 and then won a nail-biter against Republican Jackie Walorski in 2010, is following the same dynamic as Frank O’Bannon did in the 1996 gubernatorial race. That year, Lt. Gov. O’Bannon was a considerable underdog, but built a quality campaign that was poised to take advantage of an epic blunder: Republican Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith’s fateful handling of the Meridian Street police riot.
 The Donnelly lead over Mourdock is close to the 10% lead Mourdock leaped to over Lugar (48-38%) in an April 30-May 1 Howey/DePauw survey, prompting Howey Politics Indiana to forecast a potential landslide in what became a 61-39% victory over Lugar. But cross tabulations in that survey revealed that just 15% of those Republican voters had voted for Mourdock because of his Tea Party ideology. Most voted Lugar out because they thought he was too old and had been in Congress too long.
Mourdock and his campaign took the landslide victory for opposite reasons, believing it had validated his Tea Party stances against bipartisanship and consensus. The interviews he conducted with CNN and MSNBC in the immediate hours after his primary upset – in which he said his favorite thing was to “inflict my opinion on someone else” – sowed the seeds for his probable defeat on Tuesday. Because of these Howey/DePauw results, HPI’s Horse Race is moving this race from “Tossup,” where it has been since the May primary,  to “Likely Donnelly.”
In the other surprising result of this Howey/DePauw survey, Republican Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett had only a 40 to 36% lead over Democrat Glenda Ritz, with a large 24% undecided. As for definite votes, Bennett leads Ritz by just a 34-32% margin. Bennett, who ushered in a series of education reforms with the imprimatur of Gov. Mitch Daniels, has a fantastic fundraising advantage over Ritz, and should benefit from being part of the GOP statewide ticket which hasn’t lost an executive branch race since Democrat Jeff Modisett won the attorney general office in 1996. Ritz’s competitiveness appears to be fueled by teachers and their unions who have chafed under the new performance standards, and elements of the Tea Party movement which disapprove of the CORE curriculum that Bennett, as well as the Obama administration, has pushed.
In the gubernatorial race, Republican Mike Pence has a 47 to 40% advantage over Democrat John Gregg, with 5% going for Libertarian Rupert Boneham, and 9% were undecided. The intriguing statistic there is that Pence has yet to crack 50% in any of the Howey/DePauw polls, even the internal poll Pence released two days ago showing him with a 46-37% advantage. Gregg has had a limited TV advertising campaign in the Indianapolis market that links Pence to Mourdock and the Tea Party.
And in the presidential race, Republican Mitt Romney leads President Obama 51-41%, with 7% undecided. Another 2% backed Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.

Doubts about Mourdock from beginning
Even after Mourdock’s historic upset – no incumbent Indiana U.S. senator had ever faced a credible primary challenge in the television age of politics – there were doubts about the Indiana treasurer. He auditioned for the Club For Growth endorsement in the winter of 2011, and fared so poorly that he had to be called back for a second look. It was former Indiana Congressman Chris Chocola and Club For Growth which poured almost $2 million into the Mourdock primary campaign against Lugar, and then another $4 million into the general. Beyond Mourdock, if there is a Hoosier political figure that will be stung by this kicking away of a Senate seat, it will be Chocola.
When Mourdock began his fateful debate remark, he had begun to weep, something he had been doing in front of reporters and newspaper editorial boards in recent weeks. After the Akin fiasco in Missouri, Mourdock largely disappeared from the campaign trail. He refused to participate in more than a dozen joint appearances. He would only appear at GOP events and with what Democrats called “adult supervision” – mostly U.S. senators like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Tom Coburn, Dan Coats and John Coryn, or Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb.
Mourdock didn’t sign off on the Indiana Debate Commission events until just two weeks before the first one. The word from GOP circles was that his national funders and bundlers feared the “Akin moment,” and they were right. When it happened on Oct. 23, it cratered the campaign, and now Indiana is likely to join the ranks of Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado as states which nominated Tea Party candidates, only to watch them self-destruct in campaigns the GOP expected to win.
The Mourdock campaign made repeated gaffes beyond the interviews within hours of his upset of Lugar that would fuel Democratic ads against him. Indiana Democrats compiled volumes of Tea Party speeches in which Mourdock questioned the constitutionality of Social Security and Medicare, and his call for “zealots” to take control of the Republican Party and Congress. All of this – spoken in his own voice from his own image – proved to be fodder for an array of TV and web videos aimed against him.
In June, his amateurish campaign accidentally posted on the internet four different responses to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare a couple of weeks before the decision. The fact that Hoosier-bred Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts ruled Obamacare constitutional was another unexpected variable in what was to have been a full-on Obamacare assault against Donnelly, who the Mourdock campaign maintained had cast the “decisive vote” for the historic health care reforms. The debate rape comment appears to have sealed his political fate.

Superintendent of Public Instruction
The sleeper race appears to be Democrat Glenda Ritz’s challenge to Supt. Bennett.  This one may be on a similar trajectory that Greg Ballard faced in 2007 when he challenged Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson. The incumbent had a 10-to-1 money advantage, almost 100% name ID, and yet Ballard made a late charge, was able to buy about two weeks of late TV, and pulled off a 5,000-vote upset. It was fueled by a sprawling discontent over property taxes and Peterson’s push for an income tax hike that was passed by the Democratic city council as a howling mob roasted in 90-degree heat outside the City/County Building.
For Bennett, it is the sprawling education reforms that were pushed through the Indiana General Assembly in 2011 that appear to have motivated the state’s 60,000 teachers and thousands more in support staff, and the ISTA as well as Tea Party conservatives suspicious of the CORE curriculum standards that have been embraced by Gov. Daniels, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
This past week, when the Department of Education posted its A through F school grades, Ritz used it as an opportunity to contrast her priorities over the Bennett reforms, which have included an expansion of charter schools and a voucher program. The irony is that key Republican legislators such as House Education Chairman Robert Behning have not been under attack for the reforms they helped usher in.
Cross tabulations show that Bennett is polling only 68% of those described as “very conservative” and 52% of “somewhat conservatives.” Ritz is picking up 13% of the “very conservative” and 28% of the “somewhat conservative” vote.
Among Republicans, Bennett is drawing only 68% of the vote (compared to 82% for Pence), and only 26% of independents. With female voters, Bennett is flagging with only 34% supporting him, compared to 46% of the men. That may be due to teachers talking to mothers. Ritz is picking up 39% of the female vote and 33% of male voters. Because of this polling, HPI rates this race a “Tossup.” An upset is possible.
Bennett has outraised Ritz by well more than $1.25 million. She will post just under $250,000 and has a last week TV buy of about $130,000 in targeted cable and four media markets. Bennett has been up on the air for more than two months.

Pence appears to be cruising to his first statewide victory, though in the Howey/DePauw, as well as internal propaganda polls released by his campaign and John Gregg’s, he has never been able to break out beyond 47%. So if there’s a troubling statistic facing Pence, that’s it. Within that 47%, only 41% say their vote is “definite” and almost 5% say they could change their mind. Some 3.2% of Gregg’s voters indicate they could change their mind.
Pence is polling 82% of the Republican vote and trails Gregg 39 to 34% among independent voters, a significant erosion from our September poll which had Pence leading Gregg 40 to 20% among independents. Gregg is polling 78% of Democrats. Horse Race Status: Likely Pence