By TOM LoBIANCOAssociated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is extending his political coattails to Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in a new ad, but the race against Democrat Joe Donnelly remains a big-money, high-stakes stalemate two weeks before Election Day.
In a new ad airing statewide, Romney accuses Donnelly of supporting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's "agenda" in Washington and calls Mourdock "the 51st vote" needed to repeal the federal health care law.
"There's so much at stake, I hope you'll join me in supporting Richard Mourdock for U.S. Senate," Romney says in the spot, paid for by the Mourdock campaign.
Donnelly's campaign hit back, noting that Romney's claim of the federal health care law being "government-run" health care was dubbed the "lie of the year" in 2010 by PolitiFact.
Invoking Romney is Murdock's latest effort to break open one of the nation's most expensive Senate races among a series of stubborn contests that refuse to budge or shed light on which party will control the 100-seat chamber come January. Republicans need to gain three seats, or four if President Barack Obama wins reelection, a task that seemed attainable earlier in the year but has grown uncertain. Contests that seemed certain to turn or remain Republican are stuck in battleground purgatory despite millions of dollars in spending by outside groups. The tide of campaign money is expected in coming weeks to flood states with tight Senate contests like Indiana, as well as Virginia, Ohio, North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin and Nevada.
Romney's coattails carry special significance in deeply conservative Indiana, where Mourdock has underperformed Romney by 12 points in most public polls. Mourdock unseated veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in a grueling May primary, and has battled with Donnelly to win over the longtime senator's supporters since then.
Conservative lawyer and super PAC pioneer Jim Bopp attempted to push more Lugar supporters to Mourdock last week with a mailer insinuating Lugar's "torch has been passed" to Mourdock. But Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher quickly renounced the mailer and said Lugar would not campaign for the man who unseated him.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter said the Romney spot is the only one he's seen for a Senate candidate this cycle. He called it a signal of "panic" from Republicans fighting for what would have been a safe seat had Lugar survived his primary.
Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS meanwhile bought another $1 million of airtime in Indiana, making his group far and away the biggest player in Indiana's Senate race. Crossroads has bought $4.8 million in airtime in a race that has already topped $22 million in spending on air, and promises to get more expensive as Democratic groups aligned with Reid buy more time in the middle of the week.
Donnelly and Mourdock are meeting for their final debate Tuesday night in the suburbs north of Louisville, Ky. Libertarian Andrew Horning, who has emerged as a potential spoiler for Mourdock, will join the two on stage.
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