FISHERS, Ind. — Democrat Joe Donnelly began the day after his surprising victory in the Indiana Senate race trying to digest what had just happened. And supporters of defeated Republican Richard Mourdock debated what had gone wrong.
Donnelly told reporters gathered at The Roost restaurant in Fishers, Ind., that it still had not sunk in that he was the state's new senator. He mentioned his wife joked with him that morning, "'At least you've still got a job.'"
Donnelly defeated Mourdock by about 6 percentage points Tuesday to claim the Senate seat that had been held by Republican Sen. Richard Lugar since 1977. Lugar was defeated by the tea party-backed Mourdock in the May primary.
Donnelly says former President Bill Clinton called him on election night to offer his congratulations, but that he has not yet spoken to Lugar.
"I said last night: those are big shoes to fill. And the truth is those shoes can't be filled," he said of Lugar. "All I can do is do my best, and I know Sen. Lugar will be someone I can call for wisdom and advice. One of the most humbling things in this whole process is to think about following him."
The Democratic Party expanded its majority in the Senate Tuesday from 53 to 55.
Mourdock was favored to win the Senate race in Republican-leaning Indiana, but his comments that pregnancy resulting from rape is something "God intended" contributed to a swing of women voters to Donnelly, according to exit polling.
Donnelly demurred Wednesday when asked about the impact of Mourdock's comments, but Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the reaction rippled out to hurt other Republicans on the ballot, including longtime Republican state Rep. Cindy Noe, who lost her seat.
In the aftermath of Mourdock's surprise loss, tea party leaders distanced themselves from him. Greg Fettig, a tea party leader who co-founded Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, said Mourdock's campaign went awry as soon as he defeated Lugar.
"Mourdock's campaign began unraveling the night of the primary when they tried to distance themselves from the tea party," Fettig said. "We lost about half our movement that night and they refused to have anything to do with them."
Fettig said he also believed Mourdock's campaign was poorly managed and allowed Democrat Joe Donnelly to paint Mourdock as an extremist. But, despite Mourdock's loss, he said, the campaign still succeeded in getting rid of Lugar, who he said had become "a fixture of Washington, big government bureaucracy."