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“It’s just a different world, and the economic crisis and the downturn have changed public perceptions, and I don’t think that’s been favorable for Senator Lugar,” said Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute.

And a recent dispute between Mr. Lugar and the state board of elections over whether he even qualifies to vote in the state has added fuel to Mr. Mourdock’s attempts to cast him as a distant bureaucrat. Mr. Lugar, who has lived in Virginia for decades and used the address of an Indianapolis home he sold in 1977 to vote, settled the dispute last month by agreeing to register under the address of a family farm.

A formidable opponent

Meanwhile, supporters of Mr. Mourdock say his visibility in the state is a major draw. While the second-term treasurer, who also ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice, is still struggling to build name recognition among the general public, political insiders say he’s a popular speaker at the annual Lincoln Day dinners and frequently shows up at local GOP events across the state.

“He is absolutely tireless,” said Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of several newsletters on Indiana politics and government. “He has just spent hours and hours and hours over the past umpteen years.”

That scores points with younger folks, who say they feel Mr. Lugar takes the state for granted.

“I haven’t seen Lugar in Whitley County since I was a junior in high school in 1996,” said state Sen. Jim Banks. “I don’t think it’s just about issues; it’s about Richard Mourdock being a frequent visitor to our area, supporting our party.”

Mr. Mourdock also has scored points with social conservatives, winning the Indiana Right to Life endorsement after Mr. Lugar upset some by voting to confirm pro-choice justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

But analysts say that without the outside help pouring into the Mourdock campaign, the race wouldn’t be nearly as close.

“It’s a referendum on Lugar, not Mourdock,” Mr. Feigenbaum said. “I hesitate to say he’s almost irrelevant in this, but there’s not a lot he can do to move the needle in favor of him.”