By Lesley Weidenbener
The Statehouse File
The National Rifle Association on Monday launched a $100,000 advertising and mail campaign aimed at unseating U. S. Sen. Richard Lugar in a GOP primary race that has become the target of conservative, outside interest groups.
The NRA's effort includes radio, television and online ads as well as 1 million pieces of mail sent to Hoosier voters. The group said its initial media buy is in the "six figures" and reports filed with the Federal Election Commission in the past few days show the spending already tops roughly $102,000.
The NRA last month endorsed Lugar's GOP challenger — Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock — but this week's attack is the most visible sign of that support. The NRA says Lugar has an F rating from its group and has moved "away from our shared values."
"It's time for another change, time to elect a senator who will protect our rights, time to elect Richard Mourdock for Senate," a TV ad says.
A spokesman for Lugar called the ad another example of special interest groups trying to impact the outcome of an Indiana election.
"Hoosiers are concerned about outside special interest groups cherry-picking Sen. Lugar's service to Indiana," Andy Fisher said in a statement. "As we contact Hoosier voters — and we've called more than one million of them — we hear increasing alarm about D.C. outsiders twisting and distorting Dick Lugar's votes and record of accomplishment."
To combat the attacks, Lugar launched his own new TV commercial on Monday. The ad — called "Mistake" — features voters talking about Mourdock and represents the most personal attack the Lugar campaign has made yet.
"I think he'll do whatever it takes to get elected," one man says in the ad about Mourdock.
"It shows me blatantly that he's desperate," another says.
But the Mourdock campaign said that during Lugar's 35 years in office, he has "taken millions of dollars from special interests PACs."
"For Lugar to attack Richard Mourdock for earning the support of conservatives groups that have thousands of grassroots members in Indiana is the height of hypocrisy and shows how desperate Lugar really is about this race," said Mourdock spokesman Christopher Conner.
Recent polls have shown that Lugar has a 6 to 7 percentage point advantage in the GOP primary race, although those leads have been within the polls' margins of error. The candidates are scheduled to meet in a debate on Wednesday.
But much of jousting in the Senate race has so far come through a flurry of ads, most of them attacks on the candidates.
Independent groups and so-called Super PACS have spent roughly $500,000 either supporting Mourdock or opposing Lugar in this year's Senate race, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Similar groups supporting Lugar or opposing Mourdock have spent only about $50,000, the FEC independent expenditure reports show.
However, Lugar started the year with significantly more cash on hand in his own campaign account than did Mourdock. According to OpenSecrets.org, which analyzes campaign data, Lugar raised about $4.9 million in 2011 and had $4 million on hand at the beginning of the year.
He raised about 72 percent of that money from individuals and about 19 percent from political action committees.
Mourdock raised nearly $1.3 million in 2011 and had about $363,000 on hand at the beginning of the year. OpenSecrets.org reports that Mourdock received about 80 percent of his contributions from individuals and only about 4 percent from political action committees.
Campaign spending since Jan. 1 has not yet been made public.
Meanwhile, the conservative Club for Growth — which also endorsed Mourdock — is preparing to launch new ads against Lugar. The campaign will include a new 30-second TV ad and two 60-second radio ads focusing in part on Lugar's support of President Barack Obama's court nominees.
Lugar has generally said a president is entitled to appoint his choice of nominees to the court, so long as they are qualified.
"Sen. Lugar is a good man, but he can hardly be called a conservative," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a statement about the new ads. "Sen. Lugar voted for bailouts, tax hikes, and all of Obama's Supreme Court justices. Hoosier Republicans have an alternative in the May primary and it's principled fiscal conservative Richard Mourdock."
Also, the Washington D.C.-based website Politico reported Monday that FreedomWorks – another political action committee supporting Mourdock – planned to pull some of its funding out of a Senate race in Utah in part to spend more in Indiana.
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com.
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