By Lesley Weidenbener
The Statehouse File
INDIANAPOLIS – A new poll in the GOP primary battle shows incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar with a lead over his challenger, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, but the spread is within the poll’s margin of error.
The Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll shows Lugar with 42 percent of the likely Republican primary voters surveyed and Mourdock with 35 percent. Howey Politics Indiana released the results in its newsletter Thursday.
The poll found 23 percent of GOP voters are undecided.
Lugar campaign spokesman Andy Fisher said in a statement the poll shows “what we have been saying all along – Hoosier voters are rejecting Richard Mourdock’s use of outside special interest groups’ money to run his all-negative campaign against Dick Lugar.”
“As the poll says – most people don’t know Richard Mourdock,” Fisher said. “As we find in our daily calls to Hoosier primary voters – which we have made more than a million — once they know Richard Mourdock, they won’t choose Richard Mourdock.”
But Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research – who worked with Democrat pollster Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group to conduct the poll – said Lugar’s failure to reach 50 percent should be a concern for his campaign.
“It’s really going to turn for him on who turns out to vote in the Republican primary,” Matthews said. “There hasn’t been a Republican primary exit poll in Indiana for 20 years. So we don’t know entirely who is going to turn out to vote.”
Matthews said the fact that Democrats can vote in the GOP primary makes it a more difficult race to measure. “It’s a wildcard,” she said. “That’s the senator’s most important lifeline at that point.”
Mourdock’s campaign spokesman, Christopher Conner, focused on Lugar’s failure to reach 50 percent.
“After millions of dollars in TV and radio ads, mostly attacking Richard Mourdock personally, Sen. Lugar continues to be under the important threshold of 50 percent for incumbents, which means people aren’t buying what his campaign is selling,” Conner said.
The poll – sponsored by Howey Politics and DePauw University Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media – surveyed 503 likely Republican primary voters from March 26-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
The results are consistent with two other polls released in the race recently. Each showed Lugar with a 6 percentage point lead, although both spreads were also within the polls’ margins of error.
The Howey/DePauw poll found that Indiana Republicans are more conservative than they are in other states, which could work in Mourdock’s favor.
“The polling data clearly shows the more Republican the electorate, the tougher time Sen. Lugar will have,” Yang said. “The low approval rating for Congress works against the senator.”
The pollsters said there is still another month for Lugar and Mourdock to change the race – especially with so many undecided voters. Matthews said “there aren’t a lot of clues” about which way those voters will break.
The Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll plans to do another survey just before the primary.
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.