In Indiana, Republican Senate Candidate Has a New Game

He won his primary as a tea party candidate, but now Mourdock moves to the middle.

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If there's one downside to Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock winning the primary race against six-term Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar earlier this year, it's that he now has to shed some of the tea party messaging that propelled him to victory, rhetoric that is partly responsible for the position he now finds himself in.

In the days following the Indiana treasurer's historic win, Mourdock told CNN that he didn't anticipate he'd negotiate much across the aisle once he won his Senate seat.

"I don't think there's going to be a lot of successful compromise," Mourdock said. "I hope to build a conservative majority in the U.S. Senate so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government." [See the 2012 Congressional Forecast.]

Mourdock's Democratic opponent, Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly ,used the comment as evidence that Mourdock was a "my way or the highway" candidate, and that doesn't play well with the state's swing voters, who will likely be a deciding factor in the tight race.

Polls released earlier this month show the race in a dead heat, with Donnelly leading among independents. And after a bitter primary, Mourdock's got the advantage with name recognition, but lags behind in terms of likeability.

With less than 10 weeks until Election Day, Mourdock's working hard to rebrand himself from a once-fiery conservative to common-sense Hoosier. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

"The notion that Richard is somehow not part of a broader team or cannot cooperate with others is kind of laughable around here," says Brose McVey, Mourdock's deputy campaign manager.

In a new ad out this week, Mourdock appears with Republican Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, who attempts to soften up Mourdock's persona.

"Richard's a great teammate and he'll work with Republicans and Democrats to grow our economy and create jobs," she says in the ad.

Visibly absent from the spot is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is bowing out of the political fray as he prepares to step into his role as president at Purdue University.

The political landscape in Indiana this year leans in Mourdock's favor. Republican candidate for governor, Mike Pence, is leading against Democratic candidate John Gregg, and the rest of the ticket is all but guaranteed to go for the GOP.

Indiana, which voted for President Barack Obama in 2008, has since seen automobile plants close, unemployment skyrocket and the state's housing market spiral downward. In an August Rasmussen poll, Romney was up by more than 15 points.

But while Mourdock can only be helped by the cast of Republican characters on the ballot in the Hoosier state, experts say he's got to do more to show he's not part of the state's most conservative coalition.

"He has been very clear he is a strong right-wing Republican," says Margorie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University. " And because of that, this race is closer than it would have been if Sen. Lugar had been the nominee."

Experts say Mourdock's best chances at victory are to try and tie Donnelly to Obama.

Outside groups have already targeted Donnelly since he voted for the president's Affordable Care Act, the auto bailouts, and the Dodd-Frank Bill.

But Donnelly, a part of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, also voted with Republicans to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress and for a balanced budget amendment. Donnelly, who represents the state's highly unionized and Catholic Second District, is a pro-life Democrat who opposed the DREAM Act.

"Joe Donnelly is going to continue to run as who he is, which is as a very moderate guy focused on jobs," says Ben Ray, a spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party. "Donnelly has been running on the motto of a common sense Hoosier, and the Mourdock campaign must think it's pretty good, because they put it in their new ad."

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.
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