INDIANAPOLIS | The race for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat remains too close to call, even as the Republican candidates for governor and president enjoy large leads over their Democratic opponents, according to a new survey of Hoosier voters.
The Sept. 19-23 Howey/DePauw University poll of 800 likely voters found Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly ahead of Republican Richard Mourdock, 40 percent to 38 percent, with 7 percent supporting Libertarian Andrew Horning. Fifteen percent of voters said they remain undecided.
The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.4 percent, meaning Donnelly and Mourdock are statistically tied in the race to replace U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, who Mourdock defeated in the Republican primary.
Donnelly's marginal lead suggests Hoosiers may continue their tradition of ticket-splitting, or voting for a candidate of one political party in one race and choosing a different party's candidate in another.
That's because Republican Mike Pence holds a 13 point lead over Democrat John Gregg in the race for Indiana governor and Republican Mitt Romney leads Democratic President Barack Obama by 12 points in the state.
According to the poll, co-sponsored by The Times, Pence is favored by 47 percent of voters, compared to 34 percent for Gregg and 5 percent for Libertarian Rupert Boneham. Fifteen percent said they are undecided.
Most troubling for Gregg, the former president of Vincennes University and a former speaker of the Indiana House, is 45 percent of Hoosiers said they've never heard of him. Only 19 percent reported having no knowledge of Pence, a six-term Congressman.
Both candidates are viewed favorably by voters who have an opinion.
In the presidential race, Obama appears unlikely to win Indiana's 11 electoral votes a second time. The poll found 52 percent of Hoosiers favor Romney versus 40 percent supporting the president. Nine percent are undecided.
Romney may be leading because a majority of Indiana voters believe the United States is on the wrong track, according to the survey. At the same time, 59 percent said Indiana is headed in the right direction and 58 percent approve of the job performance of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
With more than a month to go before Election Day on Nov. 6 and millions of dollars yet to be spent on television advertising and get out the vote efforts, these results could still change.
But if Donnelly prevails while Hoosiers choose Republican candidates for president and governor, it would not be unusual.
In 2008, Hoosiers voted for Obama, a Democrat, while simultaneously electing Daniels, a Republican, to a second term. Indiana also voted for Republican President George W. Bush in 2004 while re-electing Democratic U.S. Sen Evan Bayh. Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon was re-elected in 2000 even as Hoosiers picked Bush for president.
Mourdock said Tuesday he believes the effects of negative television commercials from the May primary election and more recently are partially responsible for his support deficit compared to fellow Republicans Pence and Romney.
"We've had $5 million of negative ads run against us and certainly negative ads have some impact," Mourdock said. "But believe me we like where we are right now, we're going to win this race."
Donnelly also said he's happy with his standing among voters going into the final five weeks of the campaign.
"Our tradition is Richard Lugar, our tradition is Evan Bayh, where we work together and where we don't worry about politics," Donnelly said. "I feel honored with where we are."