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INDIANAPOLIS | U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar leads State Treasurer Richard Mourdock by 7 points in a new survey of Indiana Republicans ahead of the May 8 primary election.

Lugar is the choice of 42 percent of Hoosier Republicans, compared to 35 percent supporting Mourdock and 23 percent who are undecided, according to the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, co-sponsored by The Times.

Political analyst Brian Howey said the narrow difference between the candidates, which is within the poll's plus-or-minus 4.5 percent margin of error, makes the race Lugar was expected to win handily, a "toss-up."

"Conventional wisdom is that an incumbent standing under 50 percent in a poll this late in an election sequence is facing the specter of defeat," Howey said.

Mourdock spokesman Christopher Conner agreed and said the results show "Hoosier Republicans are ready for a change."

"After millions of dollars in TV and radio ads, mostly attacking Richard Mourdock personally, Sen. Lugar continues to be under the important threshold of 50 percent for incumbents, which means people aren't buying what his campaign is selling," Conner said. 

At the same time, the poll found 17 percent of Republicans never have heard of Mourdock, and 40 percent have no opinion of him, even after twice being elected state treasurer — most recently in 2010.

Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said Indiana Republicans aren't going to vote for someone they don't know.

"As we find in our daily calls to Hoosier primary voters — which we have made more than a million — once they know Richard Mourdock, they won't choose Richard Mourdock," Fisher said.

A separate poll of likely general election voters found Lugar easily would beat U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, 50 percent to 29 percent. If Mourdock is the Republican nominee, he and Donnelly tie at 35 percent each. Libertarian Andy Horning is supported by 7 percent in both match-ups. Donnelly is unopposed in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

In the governor's race, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Columbus, is ahead of former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, D-Sandborn, 44 percent to 31 percent. Libertarian Rupert Boneham is the choice of 5 percent with 20 percent undecided.

The poll found Gregg has a huge name recognition problem with 71 percent of voters saying they've never heard of him. Pence is not known by 30 percent of Hoosiers.

Both Pence and Gregg are unopposed for their party's nomination. Incumbent Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is constitutionally prohibited from serving a third consecutive term.

President Barack Obama has some work to do if he wants to keep Indiana in the Democratic column. The poll found Republican Mitt Romney leading the Democratic president, 49 percent to 40 percent. Obama narrowly carried Indiana in 2008.

A majority of Hoosiers (52 percent) disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president, 81 percent disapprove of Congress, and 61 percent say the country is on the "wrong track."

Respondents were more optimistic about their home state, with 53 percent saying Indiana is headed in the right direction and 63 percent approving of Daniels' work as governor.

The telephone polls of 503 likely Republican primary voters and 503 likely general election voters were conducted March 26 through 28.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.