Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock's line of attack against his Democratic rival is simple: Link him to President Obama, early and often.
A day after delivering U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's first loss in almost 40 years, the state treasurer wasted no time taking aim at U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, of Granger, as he shifted his focus toward the Nov. 6 general election.
In a stop Wednesday at Allen County Republican Party headquarters, Mourdock laid out his battle plan, blasting Donnelly for votes in favor of Obama's stimulus package and health care reform law.
"It is a record that will be linked time and time again to Barack Obama, and that is not going to win in the state of Indiana," Mourdock told a cheering roomful of GOP boosters gathered for a post-primary luncheon.
At the same time, Democrats started to gloat after Mourdock's win Tuesday in the Senate primary, claiming his tea party support and hard-line conservative stances would make him a vulnerable target in the fall.
As soon as the results of Tuesday's primary became clear, Donnelly praised the 80-year-old Lugar in a statement and tried to contrast the six-term lawmaker's reputation of bipartisanship with Mourdock's rigid brand of conservatism.
“While Richard Mourdock trumpets his tea party ideas and claims bipartisanship is a dirty word, I will be meeting with the hardworking men and women of this state talking about how we can get Hoosiers back to work,” Donnelly said.
Lugar's campaign struggled to peg Mourdock as untrustworthy, but Democrats will try a different tactic, painting him as an extreme right-wing fanatic.
They will point to his claims that he would like to get rid of whole federal agencies, support for overhauling entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security and – above all – close ties with conservative tea party groups, Donnelly spokesman Ben Ray said.
“It's plain and simple: Richard Mourdock is too extreme for Hoosier voters,” Ray said. “Richard Mourdock believes Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional.”
But Mourdock brushed off claims that he would not make a strong general election candidate, noting that he has twice been elected to a statewide office and, in 2010, won the most votes of any statewide candidate.
He compared Donnelly to former U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who in 2010 was soundly beaten by then-candidate Dan Coats in the race for Evan Bayh's former Senate seat.
In that race, Democrats tried to cast doubt on Coats by exploiting his D.C. lobbying days, while Coats hammered Ellsworth on his votes for “Obamacare” and the stimulus, much like Mourdock hopes to do against Donnelly. Ultimately, Coats beat Ellsworth by more than 25 percentage points.
But Ray rejected the notion that this year could be a repeat of 2010, when he said anti-incumbent sentiment reached a boiling point and voter turnout plummeted without a presidential race on the ballot.