It's official: Richard Mourdock has unseated six-term Senator Dick Lugar, setting the tone for primaries across the country. What's coming up for Mourdock this fall will be dramatically different from the primary race: he'll be facing a Democrat opponent buoyed by the cash-rich Obama campaign. Republicans need to keep every single Senate seat they've got and gain more if they hope to enact a Constitutionally conservative agenda. Mourdock's win proves the desire is there. But the fight's not over yet -- the grassroots have an even tougher battle coming now.
The media is getting an early start seeding the field:
And if Mourdock does win tonight, those outside conservative groups that boosted his candidacy have handed Democrats an opening.
The polling has long shown that moderate Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly, a former small business owner and House member from the South Bend area, had no shot against Lugar but does stand a chance against Mourdock, a tea party favorite with big-dollar support from the Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association and FreedomWorks.
Mourdock has shown he can and will compete in the high dollar race. His opponent is already running to the center; it's the only hope Donnelly will have in the general. Obama's low approval ratings don't just indict him as a poor performer on the economy; his sagging approval ratings will shorten his coattails come fall, which means that candidates like Donnelly will be fighting a surprisingly uphill battle. The polls are already tight.
Donnelly is going to target Mourdock's celebrated suit which challenged the Chrysler bailout, a move which cemented Mourdock's grassroots credentials and made him somewhat of a tea party folk hero in Indiana. Donnelly is already attempting to toxify Mourdock's battle against big government. How well he succeeds depends on how well Mourdock and the rest of the GOP can fight such a message, and what the grassroots will do to elucidate the narrative for the rest of the voting public.
Mourdock will have to rely on the grassroots again. They are the players in the trenches interacting with the everyday voter. Grassroots will need to work street corners and pound pavement; the GOP will have to provide air cover with media buys.
If all parties can work together and if grassroots maintains their momentum -- which I've no doubt they will -- Mourdock will see another victory this fall. If he doesn't, the conservative effort to retake the Senate may be in serious trouble.