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Indiana early voting down despite Lugar-Mourdock race

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As the toughest primary battle in his almost four-decade Senate career neared its end, Republican Richard Lugar tossed darts at a wooden board in an Indiana retirement home Monday and left hopeful that the residents would be more impressed by his message than his aim.

The first landed on the floor. Another nearly hit a camerawoman standing off to the side. Just two of six hit the mark.

It was a poignant reminder of a grueling campaign so fraught with missteps that even some voters who have backed Lugar for 36 years now are saying it's time to change direction.

"Presidents can't serve more than eight years, why should anyone else?" asked Chuck Williams, a resident at Wesley Manor retirement home in Frankfort where Lugar made one of his last stops of the primary campaign Monday.

Indiana voters who have been besieged by negative attack ads for months will decide Tuesday whether the 80-year-old senator should continue to seek a seventh term or put tea party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock on the ballot in November. The winner faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly

Lugar was hoping for a high turnout, but early voting was down by some 40 percent from the record set in 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton crisscrossed Indiana in their tight contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Nearly two-thirds of the some 89,000 early ballots were cast in the Republican primary. While Democrats might be tempted to stay home Tuesday because they lack contested races for president, Senate or governor, some predicted that Lugar's chances of victory could rely on his appeal to Democrats and independents. Under Indiana's election rules, primary voters can ask for either party's ballot.

"I think if Lugar were to hang on, that's how he'll hang on," said Kip Tew, a former state Democratic Party chairman.

In the waning days of the campaign, the senator that just six years earlier was viewed as so invincible that Democrats didn't field a challenger resorted to pleading for voters of all ilk to return him to Washington to continue representing the state.

Lugar said people have responded to his plea but acknowledged during a campaign stop Monday in West Lafayette that his fate could rest on how many Hoosiers decide to cast ballots.

"Turnout is the key issue," he said.

Lugar entered the race with a huge fundraising advantage over Mourdock but has seen a sharp reversal of fortune in recent months as outside groups spent millions on ads pounding away at his failure to keep a home in Indiana and a voting record seen as too liberal for many Hoosiers. His campaign's negative attacks on Mourdock rankled some voters more accustomed to Lugar's genial demeanor and reputation as a diplomat adept at brokering compromise.

Kaye Bass, a former pastor at Bluffton United Methodist Church who shook hands with Lugar at Wesley Manor Monday, will do his part. Bass said he is a former Republican who now votes Democrat most of the time, but he plans to pull a Republican ballot and support Lugar.

Bass said arguments that Lugar has spent too much time in Washington are ridiculous.

"He's got a job, and that's where his job is," Bass said.

But Tew doesn't expect a surge of Democrats to turn out for Lugar, saying the recent wave of TV attack ads from the Lugar campaign against Mourdock have "ruined Dick Lugar's brand in the state."

"You might not see as much as if Senator Lugar had made a positive appeal to being a statesman and trying to govern from the center," Tew said.

Mourdock, who spoke to a Rotary Club in Elkhart Monday before heading to a church in West Lafayette, said he was glad the election season was nearing an end and expressed confidence that voters will side with him.

"I never thought we'd lose this race," he said.

He called Lugar a "great public servant" and appeared to become choked up when asked about the race.

"I do have respect for him. I do. How can you give 50 years of your life to public service and me not have respect for that? But still, I think it's time" for a change, Mourdock said.

In Indianapolis, where Lugar served two terms as mayor from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s before being elected to the Senate in 1976, former Lugar supporter Don Ginder, 60, said he voted for Mourdock in part because he was turned off by Lugar's negative campaign ads.

But Ginder, who works for a trucking company, said he's also frustrated with Congress and feels many congressmen, once elected, eventually become distanced from the typical voter.

"There's people who've been in their 35, 40 years — it's like they're isolated, the whole bunch of them," he said. "When they're in Congress that length of time, I just think they fall into a different way of thinking, in Washington, and you become more and more isolated from what the people really want."

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