Anti-tax advocate Norquist poised to throw support behind Mourdock

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Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who leads Americans for Tax Reform, said he is set to make an announcement Wednesday with Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is opposing six-term Senator Richard Lugar in the state’s May 8 Republican primary.

In an interview Tuesday, Norquist praised Mourdock and said Lugar’s challenger has agreed to sign the group’s pledge never to raise taxes. Lugar hasn’t endorsed that pledge, which was signed by most Republican lawmakers in Congress.

“Mourdock’s record and commitments are much stronger than Lugar’s,” Norquist said, noting Lugar’s refusal to sign the pledge. A person familiar with Norquist’s plans said the purpose of the announcement tomorrow is to endorse the state treasurer in the Senate contest.

The move would be the latest blow to Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He’s facing attack ads funded by the super-PAC of FreedomWorks, which supports the Tea Party movement, and the small-government group Club for Growth. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, endorsed Mourdock April 27.

So far, little independent polling has been done in the contest. A March 26-28 poll of 503 likely Republican voters by Howey Politics Indiana and DePauw University found Lugar with 42 percent to Mourdock’s 35 percent.

Lugar risks losing to Mourdock in the primary, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

“Lugar is in a significant amount of danger,” Gonzales said. “I think the race is trending against him. The question is: Is there enough time for Mourdock to pull this off?”

Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said the senator has a “proven record of fighting for lower taxes and less spending,” and that Indiana voters don’t favor lawmakers who make ironclad promises to special interests. Fisher said Lugar supports a flat tax, and it isn’t clear that Norquist’s group would back that tax regime.

Fisher said Lugar’s campaign is making a “massive get-out- the-vote” effort in the state and that the campaign is “in pretty good shape.”

“We feel that the contacts that we’re making through our phone bank in the final days are going to be very successful,” he said.

First elected in 1976, Lugar and Orrin Hatch of Utah are the Senate’s two longest-serving Republicans. Hatch also has faced opposition from FreedomWorks, and last month he fell 32 votes short of getting his party’s nomination at a state Republican convention. Hatch faces a June 26 primary against Republican state Senator Dan Liljenquist.

Lugar is being targeted by conservative groups for supporting the 2008 bank bailout, a pathway to citizenship for children of some illegal immigrants, and a strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia he helped steer through the Senate in 2010.

He also has been hampered by a challenge to his state residency amid criticism that he hasn’t spent enough time in Indiana. A Democrat-controlled county elections board ruled in March that Lugar was ineligible to vote in his home precinct because he and his wife registered using the Indianapolis address of a home he sold in 1977. A settlement was reached allowing Lugar to change his voter registration address to a family farm in Indiana.

Mourdock is a former coal-company geologist who in 2010 won re-election as state treasurer. In addition to the conservative groups, Mourdock claims the support of most of the state’s 92 Republican county chairmen.

Lugar has been fighting back, airing TV ads that tout his credentials and experience, and attacking Mourdock. He has the support of two independent super-PACs set up to aid his candidacy, the Indiana Values super-PAC — led by a former Lugar chief of staff — and Hoosiers for Economic Growth and Jobs.

Gonzales said Lugar has made a series of missteps in his primary race, including waiting too long to become actively engaged in the race. While Lugar raised much more money than Mourdock personally, $5.9 million compared with $2.3 million for Mourdock as of March 31, he hasn’t adjusted enough to a time when outside groups can negate the advantage, he said.

“He hasn’t been aware enough of the new political reality that long-time experience is not valued the way it once was,” Gonzales said.

The winner of the May 8 primary will face Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly in the general election this fall.

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