Indiana will get a new look in Washington, D.C., next year, but how dramatic a facelift hinges largely on whether Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, the state's dominant political figure, survives a bruising challenge from the right.
Marion County Clerk Beth White said she expects voter turnout for the Tuesday primary to be about 20 percent, much lower than the 37-percent participation in the 2008 primary. Without a presidential primary this time around, Democrats don’t feel as much urgency to vote, White said.
For Republicans, the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Richard Lugar and Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock is by far the highest-profile race in the primary.
The 5th District seat vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Dan Burton also is drawing interest, said White, because the redrawn district includes a larger portion of Indianapolis than in the past.
Several Republican hopefuls are vying for the seat.
“That’s a factor that will drive the turnout on the north side,” White said.
The state has three open congressional seats in Tuesday's primary, two of which have tea party-backed candidates. But it's the movement's challenge to Lugar by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock that could rock the Republican establishment on its heels.
"The tea party will either say they are still a force to be reckoned with or they have crested and are on their way down," said Kip Tew, a former Indiana Democratic Party chairman.
Some Indianapolis voters who weighed in at a southeast side polling station before work Tuesday said they felt it was time for a change in Washington.
Chris Creech, a 27-year-old system administrator at Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, said he voted for Lugar in past elections but voted for Mourdock in this year's GOP primary because he felt Lugar had become too liberal.
"I just think Lugar has become less conservative over the years and I think it's time for someone new," he said after voting at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.
Maurice Whittemore, a 50-year-old state employee and a registered Republican, said he had been undecided until he heard that a weekend tea party rally had endorsed Mourdock.
"I always liked Lugar because of what he had done on defense issues," he said. "I'm more of a fiscal conservative and while it doesn't sound like Mourdock is completely there, if they were endorsing him they had a reason."
As polls opened, White said there had been some minor hiccups — three polling locations opened late — but that those problems aren't unusual nor insurmountable.
"We are seeing nothing widespread … no systemic mechanical kinds of problems … just the typical things we would see getting 3,200 people into the community and ready to go by 6 o'clock," White told WTHR-TV.
White urged voters to double-check where they are supposed to vote because many polling locations have changed. Clerk's office spokeswoman Angie Nussmeyer told The Associated Press that one in three Indianapolis voters likely will have new polling locations.
GOP poll worker Robin Champion said there had been some confusion among voters. She said one older woman told her she had gone to two other locations, including her former polling place, before arriving at Good Shepherd. She said about 30 people had voted by 8 a.m.
Tuesday's primary lacks the energy of the 2008 race, when the heated primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton set voting records across the state.
Early voting was down about 40 percent compared with early voting in 2008, Nussmeyer said. She said officials anticipate statewide voter turnout Tuesday to run about 17 to 20 percent, which she said is typical for a presidential primary. Turnout for Indiana's 2008 primary was 30 percent statewide, the highest in 20 years, she said.
Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney are expected to easily win Indiana's presidential primaries. Neither party has contested primaries for governor. And there is only one Democrat running for Senate — Rep. Joe Donnelly.
That leaves the Lugar-Mourdock contest by far the highest-profile race in the primary, a point underscored by the $4 million outside groups backing Mourdock or Lugar have spent on the election — an amount greater than nearly any other U.S. House or Senate race in recent years.
Mourdock's campaign has portrayed Lugar as becoming too moderate and out of touch after 36 years in Washington.
Whittemore seemed to agree with Mourdock's claim that Lugar had compromised on too many issues.
"He's from the old school, where they like to compromise. And compromise is OK except when you're doing it and you know you're not going to get anything in return but are just hoping you will," he said. "That's not really compromising — you just keep throwing it out there and hoping you might get something back."
Lugar contends a "vast majority" of Indiana voters would support his re-election — if he can win the primary.
Lugar said people across the state are responding and turning out to vote for him following his appeal last week for support from Democrats and independents based on his work on issues such as the destruction of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and boosting the state's agricultural interests.
"If they come, we will win," Lugar said.
But Tew, the former state Democratic chairman, doesn't expect a surge of Democrats crossing over to vote for Lugar in the primary, 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.
If Lugar loses Tuesday, Mourdock will face Donnelly in November. That means Indiana will have a new senator as well as three new members of Congress.
Lugar has said he will not run as an independent if he loses Tuesday, however he has refused to say whether he will support Mourdock if Mourdock wins.
This is the second straight election in which Indiana will have three open congressional seats, the first time that has happened in 50 years. The vacancies were created by the departures of Reps. Mike Pence and Joe Donnelly, who are running for other offices, and the retirement of Burton.
The races to succeed Burton and Pence, who's running unopposed for governor and will face Democrat John Gregg in the fall, have prompted crowded fields in the two heavily Republican districts. Eight candidates are on the GOP ballot for the nomination to take Pence's seat in eastern Indiana's 6th District, with former state Rep. Luke Messer of Shelbyville and Columbus real estate investor Travis Hankins considered the leading contenders.
Another big field is seeking the Republican nomination to replace Burton. The highest-profile candidates have been former Rep. David McIntosh, former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks, two-time Burton challenger John McGoff and Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold.
The clearest challenge by a tea party favorite is the campaign by Kristi Risk, a stay-at-home mother and substitute teacher, against first-term Rep. Larry Buschon, who narrowly defeated her in the 2010 primary on his way to winning election to southwestern Indiana's 8th District seat.
The tea party movement might propel Mourdock to victory, but Mike Murphy, a former Republican chairman for Indianapolis who is backing Lugar, said anti-establishment attitudes among some voters are being fueled by a number of factors, including outside interest groups.
Recent polling has shown Lugar trailing Mourdock, but Murphy said Lugar could get a boost from loyal older voters who are more likely to cast primary ballots.
"Every once in a while the polls just don't quite catch the voters' attitudes," Murphy said. "It is not a foregone conclusion with Lugar, but it's not looking positive."