Tea party's Richard Mourdock trails in Indiana Senate race, poll shows

Once favored to win the US Senate race in Indiana, the GOP's Richard Mourdock now trails by 11 points, a new poll shows. Independents, in particular, have abandoned him since his statement about pregnancy from rape and God's intent.

Michael Conroy/AP
Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock pauses during a news in Indianapolis, Oct. 24, to explain the comment he made during the candidates' final debate.

(Updated at 3:15 EDT.)

The GOP's Richard Mourdock appears to have done grave damage to his Senate candidacy in Indiana by his comment that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."

Almost nine in 10 Hoosiers heard about the statement, according to a poll released Friday by Howey/DePauw, an Indiana group that boasts both a Republican and a Democratic pollster. And since Mr. Mourdock uttered it on Oct. 23, his Democratic opponent has blown open a massive 11-point lead, the poll shows. 

When the group last surveyed voters in September, it found Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) with a statistically insignificant lead of two percentage points. (Its October survey contacted 800 likely voters and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.)

Few ever expected the race for this pivotal Senate seat to be a lock for Mourdock, but the state treasurer had been the favorite to win in the right-leaning state. The only other two polls on the race, by Rasmussen Reports, showed Mourdock with a single-digit lead. The seat is one that the Republican Party had counted on having on the way to a takeover of the US Senate.

Among those who had heard of Mourdock’s comments, 40 percent said they were less likely to vote for him, while 54 percent said his words had no impact on their vote.

Mourdock’s fall is less spectacular than that of Rep. Todd Akin (R) of Missouri, a fellow GOP Senate candidate, whose comments about “legitimate rape” in mid-August put the torch to his single-digit lead in the polls. Representative Akin is now a deep underdog against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).

Friday’s poll in Indiana also indicates that something has gone very wrong for Mourdock among independent voters. Whether by his rape comments or a flood of outside spending, or some combination of both, Mourdock’s favorability (and support) cratered among independent voters since September, the polling shows.

Outside groups have spent millions on this contest, on both sides. Only three other US Senate races have seen more money flowing in from such groups, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

While Mourdock’s favorability rankings have tanked, Mr. Donnelly’s have held steady. That’s especially true among independent voters, who make up about one-quarter of the Indiana electorate. Independent women have a 12 percent favorable versus 48 percent unfavorable view of Mourdock, and among independent men, 23 percent view him favorably and 51 percent view him unfavorably.

Independent voters are now breaking 3 to 1 for Donnelly. In September, Donnelly had an insignificant edge of 32 percent to 30 percent over Mourdock among that subset of voters.

Mourdock's deputy campaign manager, Brose McVey, challenged the poll's findings and charged that the pollsters did not release all of the data. The Mourdock campaign released its own internal data, showing Mourdock with a statistically insignificant two-point lead, 46 percent to 44 percent. The campaign's poll queried 600 voters and had a margin of error of 4 percent.

If Mourdock loses, the proximate cause may well be his ill-fated rape comments at the candidates' final debate. However, Friday’s poll shows another factor is at work: Mourdock's inability or unwillingness to consolidate state Republicans, including those faithful to former Sen. Richard Lugar (R), the man Mourdock bested in the GOP primary.

The bottom line, writes Indiana analyst Brian Howey, is this: In Indiana, what went around for Mourdock in the April primary may be going around for Donnelly in October. The bump in Donnelly’s polling numbers is identical to the size of Mourdock’s spring bounce, which led Howey to forecast a “potential landslide” for Mourdock for the primary.

That landslide came to pass. But Mourdock, Howey writes, misinterpreted that result.

“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,” Howey writes. “Mourdock and his campaign took the landslide victory for opposite reasons, believing it had validated his Tea Party stances against bipartisanship and consensus.”

It's telling that Mourdock is winning just 70 percent of Republican voters. Instead of consolidating the Lugar Republicans, Mourdock in May went on cable television and began a gaffe spree by quipping that his favorite thing is “to inflict my opinion on someone else.” It is that attitude, Howey writes, that “sowed the seeds for his probable defeat on Tuesday.”

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