This was a sharpening of distinctions, the presentation of a starker choice, one which more realistically reflects the contrast between the parties today. Moderates and centrists who felt comfortable voting for Lugar will feel much less so about Mourdock. Can the Democrats now pick up this seat? It's far from a sure thing -- Indiana's a pretty red state, and Mourdock isn't as obviously out in orbit around Pluto as, say, Christine O'Donnell was. But our chances have surely improved.
An even greater sharpening of distinctions took place this week around another hot-button issue -- gay marriage. North Carolina's already-infamous Amendment One passed, not only affirming the ban on gay marriage but also obliterating all intermediate rights such as civil unions and domestic-partner benefits (it has been claimed that many North Carolina voters favored such concessions and would not have voted for Amendment One if they had realized it prohibited them -- if so, let's hope buyer's remorse is settling in). Within days of this triumph for the Godhatesfagsian theocratic right, the President of the United States personally endorsed gay marriage. Again, a stark contrast, highlighting the real differences between the parties.
Some have argued that Obama was pushed into this move by Biden's recent remarks about gay marriage (the latter branded as a "gaffe"); others consider the administration too savvy to have let itself be put in such a position, and insist the whole thing was orchestrated. To me it seems just as likely that Obama had "evolved" to his newly-stated position some time ago, and felt it appropriate to make a public statement now in order to reassure a reliable but embattled constituency in the wake of the North Carolina vote.
Was it risky? I question how many extra knuckle-dragger votes the Republicans will really gain from Obama's announcement. Those who believe him to be a Muslim communist Nazi Kenyan America-hater have no doubt long been convinced that he's pro-gay-marriage whether he explicitly said so or not; their votes were in the bag for the Republicans all along. It's the less-motivated part of the left, the naïve both-parties-are-the-same cynics, the ones who aren't paying attention, who are more likely to be reachable here.
I myself, for example, have been somewhat relieved at the victory of the Sane faction of Republicans in nominating Romney -- while Obama is far better, and is guaranteed my vote, at least we don't need to worry about Bachmann or Perry becoming President. A site I regularly read to follow thinking among the Sane faction is the pro-Romney Race42012, far removed from the ravings of RedState or Hot Air. Yet even there, when Obama's announcement hit the news, the same old dehumanizing clichés and knee-jerk bigotries ambled forth (see comment thread here), knuckles dragging, to remind us that these people, whether Sane or Nutty, are The Enemy. (For the Nutty faction, there was this.) One would have to be an impossibly naïve cynic to look at all this and still claim there is no meaningful difference between the parties.
Remember, getting people fired up is good for us. When turn-out is high (2008), we win. When turn-out is low (2010) they win.
As Mourdock himself recently said, "We are at that point where one side or the other has to win this argument. One side or the other will dominate." If that's what they want, I'm up for it. Let's make sure it's our side.