Richard Lugar has had a big bank account and fundraising prowess going for him in defense of the May 8 primary challenge from Richard Mourdock.

Lugar still has the larger bank account by a lot, but Mourdock out-raised Lugar in the 1st Quarter of 2012, according to numbers recently released by the campaigns:

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock raised more campaign cash than Sen. Richard Lugar in the first quarter of 2012, but the incumbent had substantially more money on hand to spend in the final weeks of the GOP primary race, according to data that will be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Mourdock raised $875,000 from Jan. 1 through March 31 in his bid to unseat Lugar, who has served in the U.S. Senate for six terms. But the Mourdock campaign had just $430,000 when the period ended.

Mourdock said in a statement that he has been “encouraged and overwhelmed by the vast support from Hoosiers Republicans.”

Lugar meanwhile raised $817,000 for the quarter but had $2.5 million left to spend on advertising, voter calls and other campaigning.

The fundraising numbers are the canaries in the coal mine, as Mourdock raised in 1Q 2012 almost as much as he raised in all of 2011, while Lugar’s fundraising leveled off.  In a tightening race which will be a sprint to the May 8 finish line, momentum is everything.

Mourdock also has gained strength in the polls, and the improved fundraising numbers reflect a public realization that Lugar is vulnerable.  Mourdock also had a solid debate performance (video embedded at bottom of post).

Mourdock has substantial support from groups like the NRA and Club for Growth, and Lugar now is the primary target of the Tea Party movement:

The Tea Party has lost a number of its top election targets this year, leaving Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) to emerge as public enemy No. 1 for national conservative groups — and poll numbers suggest they could get their man.

Groups including the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, Tea Party-affiliated FreedomWorks and the National Rifle Association have increasingly prioritized defeating Lugar, and social-conservative groups like Gary Bauer’s Campaign for Working Families and the Eagle Forum have endorsed Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R), Lugar’s primary opponent.

The best sign that Lugar is worried is that the American Action Network, which supports establishment Republicans, just announced that it will spend huge dollars attacking Mourdock:

After massive ad buys against Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar by national conservative groups like the Club for Growth, the establishment cavalry is coming to his rescue, with the American Action Network launching a nearly $600,000 broadcast buy just in Indianapolis, the group confirmed to POLITICO

Lugar’s allies are worried.  If they are spending $600,000 just in Indianapolis, they must have horrible internal polling numbers.

The withdrawal of Rick Santorum from the presidential race will help Mourdock:

“The real grassroots politics, the ones that motivate people, were the ones that were out there more for Santorum.  They’re still going to be motivated, they’re still going to get out and vote but I don’t know that Romney’s folks will,” Mourdock said, outlining what he saw as an enthusiasm gulf between the two camps.  “I think it probably keeps some of the fair weather voters home who might be more inclined to go with name ID, who don’t really tune into the Senate race as much as they do a presidential race.”

Mourdock also said the removal of Santorum from the race simultaneously lifts a lingering cloud that had overshadowed the Senate contest here.

From his perspective, more attention translates into larger momentum for a challenger attempting to upend a longtime political icon.

This is a winnable race for Mourdock, and possibly the last chance to move the Republican caucus in the Senate more conservative by the removal of Barack Obama’s favorite Republican Senator in a seat which will stay Republican.

You can support Mourdock here.

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Mourdock and Lugar had their one and only debate last Wednesday.  Most of the commentary was about how civil it was, and how Mourdock was respectrul to Lugar.  Don’t take that as a negative.  Lugar is a grandfatherly figure, and for Mourdock to have gone after him in a dramatic way could have backfired.  The key thing is that Mourdock came across as a credible, serious Senate candidate.  Here’s the full debate, you be the judge: