INDIANAPOLIS | Could a third candidate join the race for the Republican nomination for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat?
While U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock already have been slugging it out for months ahead of the May 2012 primary election, state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, has begun hinting he might join the race.
In a message sent to supporters last week, Delph sharply criticized Lugar and Mourdock for focusing on their 2012 race and ignoring Republicans running in local elections this November.
"Stop campaigning for yourselves and start helping your teammates who stand for election in just about 90 days," Delph said.
Delph is believed to be choosing either a U.S. Senate run or a primary race against U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indianapolis. Once the November elections are through, he said he "will let all inquiring minds know my own 2012 intentions, assuming they have crystallized by then."
A Tea Party favorite who championed the state's recently enacted anti-illegal immigration law, Delph has become increasingly skeptical of Lugar's conservative credentials as the senator seeks a sixth six-year term.
At least one public opinion poll found Mourdock, also a Tea Party supporter, leading Lugar, but Lugar far outpaces Mourdock in fundraising with $3.5 million in the bank, compared to $213,000 for Mourdock.
So far Delph lacks a federal campaign committee but has statewide name recognition due to his immigration legislation and could lure Tea Party and anti-Lugar Republicans and their campaign donations away from Mourdock, who has yet to win the endorsement of most Tea Party groups.
Delph also has experience running statewide, losing to Munster native Todd Rokita for the GOP secretary of state nod in 2002.
Indiana Democrats have coalesced around U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, as their pick for the U.S. Senate and seem content to watch the Republicans fight it out, though they remain focused on Lugar as Donnelly's likely opponent.
Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker wasted no time last week criticizing Lugar after the senator told a Louisville, Ky., television station "the American economy is still strong," following a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating.
"I respectfully disagree with Sen. Lugar," Parker said. "I know I speak for most Hoosiers when I say that I'm worried about the economy."