LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
It's August and even though Congress is headed for the exits, there's no time off for candidates in an election season. Mitt Romney campaigned this weekend in a state that has not seen much of either candidate. Nobody considers Indiana a toss-up in the presidential race, but in the Senate contest there is a different story. It's a very close race, and the result could determine which party controls the Senate next year.
So Romney showed up at a barbecue shack in Evansville to help out the conservative Republican Senate candidate. NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Richard Lugar is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. He's known for crossing the aisle and for his expertise in foreign policy and national security. Lugar won't be back next year. This man beat him in the Republican primary.
RICHARD MOURDOCK: We cannot have another four years of the bankrupt policies of Barack Obama.
SHAPIRO: Richard Mourdock is a tea party favorite. He promises that if Indiana sends him to Washington, he'll put all his weight behind moving the Senate to the right. Yesterday, Mitt Romney dropped into Stepto's Bar-B-Q Shack in Evansville to put a little weight behind Mourdock.
MITT ROMNEY: This is a man I want to see in Washington to make sure we can not just talk about changing things but actually have the votes to get things changed. Will you help me elect this guy as the next U.S. senator?
SHAPIRO: This is kind of a you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours arrangement for Mourdock and Romney. Their joint appearance helps Mourdock get money and national attention. It helps Romney cement his reputation with the Tea Party voters who were skeptical of him during the primaries.
ROMNEY: I care very deeply about the people of Evansville and the people of Henderson, Kentucky across the border, and people all over this state and across the country.
SHAPIRO: Indiana is basically a Republican state, but polls show that this Senate race is essentially tied. The Democratic candidate, Joe Donnelly, promises to continue Lugar's tradition of bipartisanship. He's trying to portray Mourdock as an extremist with TV ads like this one, which uses Mourdock's own words against him.
(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Think Tea Partier Richard Mourdock will work with both parties to get things done? Hardly.
MOURDOCK: To me the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else.
SHAPIRO: Indiana is the rare state where Democrats could pick up a Senate seat that's currently held by Republicans. This race could even determine which party controls the Senate next year. And that's important to Romney, as he explained at a news conference on Friday when a reporter asked how long it would take to overhaul the tax code.
ROMNEY: The length of time for tax reform, if I became president, is dependent in part on whether we elect Republicans in the Senate and the House, and by what number.
SHAPIRO: In 2008, President Obama flipped Indiana blue by just 1 percentage point. It was the first time the state chose a Democrat for president in 40 years. Nobody expects him to win the state this time.
Around the corner from the Bar-B-Q Shack, Jeff Goodwin is holding a yard sale. He's a truck driver and a disappointed Democrat.
JEFF GOODWIN: I've thought about it, and I don't know but this could be the first election since I've been 18 I've not voted.
SHAPIRO: Just because you're so disillusioned with both of them?
GOODWIN: I'm not happy with Obama. And Mitt Romney, he's not showed me anything that I'm impressed with.
SHAPIRO: Steven Myer is browsing through the piles of toys and clothes. He works in a plastics factory, and he says this is a really scary time.
STEVEN MYER: Most of my family's out of work. Most of my friends are out of work. Luckily, I've got a job. I've had one now for about two and a half years. But they keep saying they don't know.
SHAPIRO: You mean whether the factory is going to have to lay people off?
MYER: Yeah, whether they're laying off or business is slow, you know. Where I work we've got 52 machines. Less than half of them are running right now.
SHAPIRO: He doesn't know much about Romney, but he's ready for someone new in the Oval Office.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the Romney campaign.
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