By Kevin Allen
So far, the focus in this year's U.S. Senate race in Indiana has been almost entirely on the Republican primary between incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic Senate candidate who didn't have a primary opponent, has been on the sidelines in terms of media coverage and voters' attention.
Mourdock pulled off a historic victory Tuesday by beating Lugar, who has been in office since 1977 and is the longest-serving senator in Indiana history.
Now the race is between Donnelly and Mourdock -- a matchup that offers clear contrasts in the candidates' respective styles, philosophies and records as office-holders.
Donnelly has built a reputation as a moderate Democrat during his three terms in Congress. Mourdock has built a reputation as a staunch conservative as a Vanderburgh County commissioner and now as state treasurer.
Donnelly said Mourdock would add to the partisan gridlock in the Senate.
"Only in Washington and only in Richard Mourdock's world is more division and more partisanship a good thing," he said.
The federal government's action in 2009 to save Chrysler and General Motors will likely be a point of contention during the general election season. Donnelly supported the plan, saying it saved thousands of jobs. Mourdock tried to block the government-brokered bankruptcy, saying it was unconstitutional.
"I'm just gonna continue to fight for the middle class. That's what we've always done," Donnelly said. "I represent the middle class. He represents special interests. That's the difference."
Some pundits have theorized that Donnelly's chances in the general election will be better against Mourdock than they would have been against the more-moderate Lugar. Republicans have highlighted similarities between Donnelly and former Rep. Brad Ellsworth, a moderate Democratic congressman whom Republican Dan Coats beat by 15 percentage points in the 2010 Senate race.
"Well, 2012 is not 2010," Donnelly said. "The polls that are out there show this race close to a dead heat. Our internal polls show us ahead. We're just gonna work nonstop, and I feel comfortable with our chances."
Howey Politics Indiana and DePauw University conducted a poll in late March that showed Donnelly and Mourdock were tied at 35 percent among general election voters, and 53 percent of respondents didn't know of Donnelly.
Of course, the same poll had Lugar leading Mourdock, 42 percent to 35 percent, which shows how long six weeks can be in politics.