INDIANAPOLIS — Days before U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's toughest election in decades, the Republican campaigned through northern Indiana, fighting hard to beat back the perception that he's already lost the race.
Numerous polls show state treasurer Richard Mourdock is poised to unseat the six-term incumbent in Tuesday's primary, which would hand the tea party its biggest trophy kill yet.
As he was pressed on hypothetical situations in which he loses Sunday, Lugar maintained his composure: "I believe I'm going to win the primary. I'm not getting involved in post-mortems yet."
But while he and his supporters remain optimistic, Indiana's political world has already started moving on. Democrats who gathered Friday night in Indianapolis for their annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner were practically giddy at the thought of their candidate, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, facing Mourdock.
Warming up the crowd for an appearance by U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Donnelly referred to Mourdock as the presumptive Republican nominee. He gave a preview of what is likely to be the centerpiece of Democratic attack, harping on Mourdock's attempt to block the federal bailout of Chrysler.
"The guy running for Senate on the other side tried to liquidate Chrysler," Donnelly said to loud boos from the crowd.
The last pieces in the soon-to-end campaign are the respective ground games and "get out the vote" efforts.
Tea partyers gathered in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday for their final push against Lugar.
"When we elect Richard Mourdock, it will be the shot heard round the world," said Hoosiers for Conservative Senate co-founder Monica Boyer at an Indianapolis rally.
Meanwhile, Lugar worked to inspire his supporters Sunday with a last-ditch attempt to beat back the new political wisdom.
"If everyone voted, I would win," Lugar said Sunday from his Fort Wayne headquarters, as he again called for all Hoosiers — Republican, Democrat, independent or otherwise — to pull a Republican ballot on Tuesday and save his career.
A few volunteers sat around tables Sunday afternoon. Lugar stood in front of them, touting their efforts of making close to 1.5 million phone calls.
Last Sunday, Lugar worked the room at Beef O'Brady's in Peru, shaking hands with supporters. He stopped to share stories with Bruce Embrey, the Miami County prosecutor, about Keith Bulen, the former Republican leader who engineered Lugar's jump from the Indianapolis school board to the mayor's office and, ultimately, the Senate.
Embrey sounded distraught as he pondered the loss of an Indiana institution. He lamented that there is increasingly less room in the Republican Party for politicians who can compromise to get results.
"There was probably some complacency as far as the senator was concerned because everyone felt Lugar was going to win," Embrey said.
The tea party has a strong presence Peru and Miami County, which is just north of Indianapolis, he said. The shopping center's grounds reflected that political reality, as it was peppered with a half-dozen Mourdock signs and no Lugar signs.Comment on this story
The critics of Lugar's compromises — including his votes for both of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees and the federal bank bailouts — rallied in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday and loudly proclaimed not only their anger toward Lugar but also how Mourdock would beat win.
Jim Lycan, 55 of Anderson, sat under a small tent at the side of the rally, one of about a dozen. Each contained organizers holding lists of homes for volunteers to canvass.
Lycan was distributing for Rockville, Ind., a suburb just to the west of Indianapolis. The "doughnut counties" that ring Indianapolis and hold much of the state's population are key battlegrounds for the campaigns.
"It's gotten down to a nice little science," he said.