Indiana Democrats see a chance to win Sen. Dick Lugar’s (R-Ind.) seat next year if Lugar loses the Republican primary.
A Lugar loss means the Democrats would be running against a lesser-known GOP opponent, and party strategists think that could make the seat competitive.
Democrats have little confidence they have any shot against Lugar, but party sources say they'd have a chance to beat Mourdock.
And that could turn the Indiana Senate seat into a pickup opportunity in a year when Democrats will be defending 23 seats.
Democrats are doing their part to aid Mourdock in his primary campaign, highlighting Lugar's willingness to "reach across the aisle" and "listen to the other side" in an e-mail earlier this week. In the e-mail, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker lamented Lugar's embrace of "right-wing rhetoric," accusing him of lurching to the right, but went out of his way to embrace the Tea Party's talking points against Lugar.
"Lugar’s political posturing is the kind of zealotry we expect from the likes of Mourdock and U.S. Rep. Mike Pence," Parker wrote. "But you, Sen. Lugar? Not you ... In the past, Lugar has offered support for pro-choice Supreme Court justices, stem cell research and the New START agreement. He's opposed to a reckless House Republican proposal to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting."
One of the top Democratic prospects is Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who is weighing both a run for Senate and a bid for governor given concern over what his district will look like once it's redrawn in the redistricting process. Donnelly, who survived a close race in 2010, might have to run in more Republican-friendly territory next year, and that could push him toward a run for higher office.
The prospect of a general-election contest against Mourdock may be preferable, and likely more winnable, than a gubernatorial race against Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), whom observers expect to jump into that race.
"Some folks are pushing [Donnelly] pretty hard toward the Senate race," said one Indiana Democrat, who also said former Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) is a possibility.
Another Democratic source said former Rep. Tim Roemer's (D-Ind.) name has been thrown out, but Roemer is serving as ambassador to India and it's unlikely that he would have any interest in a Senate run.
"Truthfully, after Donnelly, I'm not sure we have that many options," the strategist said. "But putting that seat in play is a pretty enticing prospect."
What is clear is that Democrats would have little shot at contesting the seat with Lugar as the nominee — and the party knows it. Lugar, who already has solid support among Democrats in the state, could be helped by a GOP primary featuring the longtime senator being beaten up rhetorically by Tea Party activists, who have labeled Lugar one of their top targets for the 2012 cycle.
Some have even floated the possibility of a party switch, but those close to Lugar have emphatically denied that the longtime Republican would be susceptible to any overtures from Democrats should they come ahead of 2012.