Politics

05.08.12

In Indiana, Democrats Are Pulling for the Tea Party Pick

The stakes are high in Tuesday’s down-ballot contests, writes Ben Jacobs.

The presidential primary season is done, but down ballot there’€™s a lot to watch Tuesday, as voters in Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin take to the polls. The Tea Party may claim its biggest scalp yet in Indiana, North Carolina will vote on a gay marriage ban, and the field will be set in Wisconsin’€™s high-stakes recall. Here are three things to watch as the results come in.

NORTH CAROLINA: GAY-MARRIAGE BAN

A gay-marriage ban is on the ballot in North Carolina, which would join the other 10 states that made up the Confederacy in passing a constitutional ban. While same-sex marriage has long been prohibited by statute in the Tar Heel State, the constitutional ban would be more difficult to overturn. Coming in the same week where two members of the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan seemed to back gay marriage, the referendum, which is expected to pass, will receive national attention.

But polls now show African-American voters are less supportive of the ban than white ones, which would be a major shift. Exit polls showed opposition to gay marriage among African-Americans was crucial to the passage of Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot measure recognizing marriages only between a man and a woman and opposed by almost every other heavily Democratic voting group.

INDIANA: DEMOCRATS PULL FOR THE TEA PARTY PICK

Dick Lugar is one of the most respected men in Washington, but the six-term senator and senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is in big trouble back home in Indiana. Lugar, who’€™s never before faced a primary challenge, is down 10 points on the eve of the primary to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has attacked the state’s senior senator for being insufficiently conservative and “Barack Obama’€™s favorite senator.”€

A Mourdock win would give the Tea Party a trophy scalp, but it would also change what had been considered a safely Republican seat in November (Lugar last took less than two thirds of the vote, in 1982) into a potentially competitive one in a state that Barack Obama won in 2008.

WISCONSIN: MOMENT OF TRUTH APPROACHES FOR WALKER

In Wisconsin, Democratic voters will also go to the polls to elect a Democratic candidate to take on Scott Walker in the recall election on June 5. The push to recall Walker has emerged as a rallying point for organized labor, and most of the state’€™s most powerful unions lined up behind former Dane County Executive Katherine Falk. But polls show Democrats likely to instead pick former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, €”raising the question of whether union members will line up behind him in what may be the most important election for the American labor movement in decades. Keep an eye on the exit polls to see if members of union households broke ranks with leadership to back Barrett.

While Walker is running effectively unopposed in the Republican primary, both campaigns will nonetheless be eyeing turnout there since mobilizing voters may prove crucial in what’€™s expected to be a tight general election in the polarized state.