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If GOP's Sen. Dick Lugar loses, are Dems prepared to pounce?

If six-term Sen. Dick Lugar loses in Tuesday's GOP primary in Indiana, Democrats see much-improved chances of picking up that US Senate seat in November. But it would not be a shoo-in. 

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Republican US Senate candidate Richard Mourdock urges his supporters to get to the polls on Tuesday as he makes a campaign stop Monday at Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church near Battle Ground, Ind. Mourdock is running against incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar.

Journal & Courier/AP

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Democrats in Indiana, not to mention Washington, D.C., are abuzz over the likelihood that the Hoosier State could soon – and unexpectedly – be added to the list of competitive US Senate races in 2012, boosting Democrats' chances of retaining control of the upper chamber of Congress.

If Sen. Richard Lugar (R) goes down in Tuesday's GOP primary as a result of an attack from his right, a Democrat will face the tea-party-backed Richard Mourdock rather than the six-term senator with a reputation as a statesman and a Republican moderate. And Democrats like their chances in that match-up much better.

By no means would the Democratic candidate, expected to be US Rep. Joe Donnelly, be a shoo-in. But at least he would have a fighting chance. A hypothetical matchup between Mr. Mourdock, Indiana's treasurer, and Mr. Donnelly puts the candidates neck and neck, at 35 percent each, according to a Howey/DePauw poll in late March. By contrast, Senator Lugar would trounce Donnelly by 21 percentage points, the same poll showed. 

“The battleground is pretty good” for a Donnelly victory, says Brian Vargus, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. “The best way to think of it is that it is a completely unanticipated possibility for Democrats to pick up a [US Senate] seat.”

Lugar himself, in the waning days of the campaign, began to warn Indiana voters of what a Mourdock win could mean for the state GOP.

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