WASHINGTON – Fresh signs that Democrats could snatch Indiana’s Senate seat from the Republicans make it distinctly harder for the GOP to seize the Senate majority in Tuesday’s election.
The latest survey out of Indiana on Friday showed Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly leading Republican Richard Mourdock by 11 percentage points after the GOP candidate’s awkward debate comment last week that pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended.”
Mourdock has scrambled to recover since the gaffe, but it has taken a toll in the closing days of a competitive race. The Howey/DePauw University Battleground poll also showed that the tea party-backed state treasurer isn’t winning over women, independents and a percentage of Republicans.
Mourdock also has struggled to satisfy backers of six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, the man he defeated handily in the May GOP primary.
GOP failure in the Hoosier state, combined with the likely loss of seats in Maine and quite possibly Massachusetts, would put Republicans in a deep hole – down seven seats to a majority if President Barack Obama wins a second term, needing six if Romney prevails.
Facing that reality, the GOP would have to win all the competitive open seats now in Democratic hands – Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin – plus knock off incumbents in Montana, Ohio and perhaps Pennsylvania to assume control.
In cards, sports and politics, it’s called running the table and it’s a tall order. Democrats currently have the Senate edge, 53-47.
“We’re very hopeful about Indiana and other opportunities to win other Republican-held seats and help us keep the majority on election night,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Putting Republican-held seats in play is the key to success here.”
The same poll showed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney up 10 percentage points over President Barack Obama, who won Indiana in 2008 but is given little chance this year. Republicans say the GOP shift will help carry Mourdock to victory.
Tightening races, new ad buys and a final dash for votes marked the closing days of a Senate campaign with a dozen competitive races, a significant number that remained as close as the presidential race. Republicans insisted that they had an opportunity in Pennsylvania to knock off first-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and a long-shot chance to win New Mexico even though both campaign committees stopped spending in the state weeks ago.
Democrats were hoping for a strong Latino turnout in Arizona to help Democrat Richard Carmona take a GOP-held seat in his race against Rep. Jeff Flake.
Republicans were counting on grabbing the Democratic-held Nebraska seat although the contest between Republican Deb Fischer and former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey was tighter, reflected in the sudden infusion of money and visiting campaign help.
Kerrey picked up the endorsement of Vietnam veteran and former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel on Thursday.
In Connecticut, Obama made his first appearance for a Democratic Senate candidate in a campaign commercial, urging voters to back Rep. Chris Murphy in his race against wrestling empire executive Linda McMahon, who has spent more than $42 million of her own money.
The commercial is scheduled to begin airing today.