Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) is running for the Senate in Indiana, but he said Monday he's not running against Sen. Richard Lugar (R).
"I'm not here today to compare myself to Richard Lugar," Donnelly said Monday afternoon on a conference call with reporters. "I am not running against Richard Lugar. I am running for the opportunity to be a United States Senator."
What seems like an oxymoron in fact paints a clear picture of the Democratic approach to the Senate race.
A victory by Lugar's conservative challenger in the GOP primary -- Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) -- would increase the chances of victory for Donnelly, as Mourdock offers less appeal to voters in the middle than Lugar does.
Lugar, for all his flaws to the GOP base, has a record of winning in Indiana, not even facing major-party competition in 2006. He won 67 percent in 2000, 67 percent in 1994 and 68 percent in 1988. If he gets out of the primary, he'll be hard to beat in a general election, even if conservatives are dissatisfied.
Donnelly's praise of Lugar, intentional or unintentional, adds fuel to the conservative argument that Lugar's best friends are Democrats. His first vulnerability with the base came when he appeared in an advertisement for Obama's presidential campaign in 2008.
He's badly in need of showcasing his distance from Democrats, but Donnelly's warm comments towards him don't help matters.
What's the relationship like between Lugar and Donnelly? "I think it's a good relationship," Donnelly said. What about Mourdock? Donnelly said he has only met Mourdock once and does not know him that well. But Donnelly said that he clashed with Mourdock on whether to give domestic auto companies bailouts -- Donnelly supported the president's plan, while Mourdock was a vocal opponent.
Meanwhile, the Lugar camp is going to try to use a Mourdock tactic against him, and point out the game Democrats are trying to play. Mourdock has said Lugar has been labeled by MSNBC as "President Obama's favorite Republican," and Lugar adviser Mark Helmke tweeted Sunday that "with Donnelly in the race, Mourdock becomes Obama's favorite GOP candidate."
Head spinning yet? Things are only getting started in the Hoosier State.-- 5:48 p.m. CORRECTION: The previous version of this post incorrectly described the way Mourdock has referred to Lugar. He said in an interview that "MSNBC has labeled Senator Lugar President Obama's favorite Republican."