Indiana Primaries: Lugar Loses, House Races Come Into Focus

Nathan L. Gonzales May 9, 2012 · 1:00 PM EDT

To loyal readers of the Rothenberg Political Report, Sen. Richard Lugar’s primary loss is not a surprise.

“Lugar is a highly-respected moderate conservative with a reputation of being willing to work across the partisan aisle to get things done. But in the current political environment, experience is overrated to conservative activists who are more interested in sending a message to the GOP establishment rather than dwell on the good ole days,” we wrote in the introduction of our February 2011 write-up of the race.

“There isn’t any doubt that Lugar starts as a popular figure, but it’s far from clear whether that support will hold up under an intense campaign,” our analysis continued, 15 months before the election. “If last cycle’s primaries are any indication, Lugar might even be an underdog in a one-on-one primary matchup.”

Yesterday, Lugar lost renomination to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Now, as Stu wrote in March, there will be a period of “turbulence,” there will be plenty of analysis about whether or not the seat is now “in play” as Mourdock goes against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D). We moved the race from Republican Favored to Lean Republican in Friday’s edition of RPR in expectation of Mourdock’s victory, but purposefully didn’t move the seat to Toss-Up, even though initial, post-primary polling could very well show a close race.

But over time, Republicans will likely coalesce behind their nominee and Donnelly, who represents part of northern Indiana, won’t start with the benefit of the doubt in the rest of the state that doesn’t know him.

Since 1974, the only Democrats to win an Indiana Senate race have been named Bayh (Evan in 1998 and 2004, and Birch in 1974)

Lugar’s loss wasn’t the only race of consequence in the Hoosier State.

In the 5th District, former U.S. attorney Susan Brooks won the GOP primary with 30 percent and is the heavy favorite to hold retiring Rep. Dan Burton’s (R) seat in the fall. RPR readers were first introduced to Brooks, a former deputy mayor of Indianapolis, in the February 10 edition of the Report.

Former Rep. David McIntosh finished a close second with 29 percent, former congressional candidate John McGoff took 23 percent and Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold was fourth with 11 percent. Brooks’ victory also means defeat for the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which both supported McIntosh. Brooks faces state Rep. Scott Reske (D) in the general election in a district that John McCain won by six points in 2008.

In the 6th District, former state Rep. Luke Messer won the GOP primary with 40 percent and will be a congressman next year. Messer, who came close to defeating Burton in the Republican primary in 2010, did most of the hard work in this race last year by clearing the field of serious candidates.

Observers were actively watching Rep. Larry Bucshon (R) in the 8th District, since he won his initial primary in 2010 with just 33 percent of the vote. He faced tea party candidate Kristi Risk once again, but didn’t have much difficulty, winning 58 percent to 42 percent. Through nine states, 83 of 85 House incumbents (98 percent) have been renominated in non-Member vs. Member races.

Bucshon faces former state Rep. Dave Crooks (D) in a potentially competitive general election, but the congressman starts with the advantage.

And in the 2nd District, left open by Donnelly’s Senate run, business consultant Brendan Mullen won the Democratic nomination with 54 percent and will face former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) in November. Walorski lost to Donnelly in 2010 but starts the general election with the advantage.

Obama won the district by less than a point in 2008 but is not likely to do as well in northern Indiana this November and Mullen will have a difficult time replicating Donnelly’s independent image in just a few months time.