INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana anti-abortion group became the latest conservative outfit to oppose U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's re-election bid, saying Thursday it saw a good chance at unseating the veteran Republican lawmaker this May.
Indiana Right to Life endorsed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock at a news conference, citing conservative anger over Lugar's vote in favor of both of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees and support for embryonic stem cell research.
"It simply comes down to this: we cannot afford to give Richard Lugar the opportunity to place one more activist judge, like Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor, onto the United States Supreme Court," Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said.
Fichter said he reached out to the Lugar campaign while his group was deciding who to endorse, and he was unhappy with some responses on a candidate survey where he thought there should have been clear "yes" or "no" answers.
"They're a bit too complicated to be 'Yes' and 'No' answers," Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said, citing the 2007 debate over embryonic stem cell research that delved into specifics about which tissue would be legal for testing. He added that Lugar's votes in favor of Sotomayor and Kagan were part of a conciliatory culture that allowed him to shepherd Chief Justice John Roberts to the bench in 2005, despite strong Democratic opposition.
The Republican battle for U.S. Senate is quickly heating up as campaigns draw closer to Indiana's May 8 Republican primary.
Lugar began airing ads this week accusing Mourdock and his supporters of "misleading" voters in the federal health care reform debate. Meanwhile, his supporters, working with the Hoosiers for Economic Growth and Jobs Super PAC, have sent mailers to Republican donors as part of an effort to raise $1.75 million for the senator.
Lugar will need the money, as Democrats and tea partiers have found traction with claims that Lugar is out of touch with Hoosiers because he hasn't owned a home in Indiana since 1977.
The latest blow came as Lugar said he will repay $4,500 he incorrectly charged to his U.S. Senate account for hotel stays in Indiana.
"We'd never heard of such a thing before in terms of a problem so we reviewed it and found there was $4,500 (owed the Senate), and we're still working with the Senate disbursing office," said Fisher, who described it as a "minor book-keeping error."
Legal challenges to Lugar's qualification for the May Republican primary ballot have fallen flat, leaving most of the arguing in the realm of politics and perception. But Lugar's lawyers are fighting a battle in Marion County Circuit Court after the Marion County Board of Elections last week disqualified him and his wife from voting in Indianapolis.
"Let's just put it this way, if I'm the United States senator from Indiana, I won't be paying for hotels bills in Indiana because I live here," Mourdock said Thursday.