- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 8, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — The face of Indiana politics for nearly four decades, Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar is battling for political survival against a tea party-backed GOP challenger who says the senator has become more interested in compromising with liberals in Washington than representing conservatives back home.

With Mitt Romney expected to coast to victory in three GOP presidential primaries, Lugar’s re-election fight — the toughest in his 36-year career — is the highest-profile contest in four states with voting Tuesday.

Wisconsin Democrats were preparing to pick a candidate to run against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in just the third gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history. In North Carolina, voters were considering a referendum that would effectively ban same-sex marriages.

Although polls in Indiana signaled momentum for the challenger, Lugar hoped a heavy turnout would propel him to victory against Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

“If they come, we will win,” Lugar said.

However, absentee voting lagged nearly 40 percent behind that of four years ago, when Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton crisscrossed Indiana in their clash for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Although Lugar’s best shot at victory appeared to be wooing Democrats and independents to take a Republican ballot and vote for him, that strategy also fueled Mourdock’s argument that the incumbent, known for his genial demeanor and reputation as a diplomat, has become too moderate.

During a campaign stop Monday in Elkhart, the challenger said his supporters were eager to get to the polls.

“We have over 1,300 precincts where we will have volunteers working for all 12 hours,” Mourdock said. “We have a tremendous grassroots game.”

Lugar entered the race with a huge fundraising advantage over Mourdock but saw a sharp reversal of fortune in recent months, as outside groups spent millions on ads pounding away at his voting record and his failure to keep a home in Indiana.

Kip Tew, a former state Democratic Party chairman, said he didn’t expect a surge of Democrats turning out for Lugar. The recent wave of TV attack ads from the Lugar campaign against Mourdock has “ruined Dick Lugar’s brand in the state,” he said.

“You might not see as much as if Sen. Lugar had made a positive appeal to being a statesman and trying to govern from the center,” Tew said.

The winner will face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in November.

Lugar said Tuesday he’s appealing to “all the people of Indiana” because the GOP represents only about 35 percent of the registered voters there.

Asked in a CNN interview if he would consider running as an independent if he loses the primary, Lugar said, “No, we cannot have a third-party race in Indiana.” He said he didn’t think his age — 80 — should be an issues, saying he remains active and engaged.

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