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Long-Time Senator Lugar Loses Primary Challenge in Indiana

Wednesday, 09 May 2012 09:25 By Monica Davey, The New York Times News Service | Report

Senator Dick LugarSen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) speaks during his primary night party in Indianapolis, May 8, 2012. (Photo: Peter W. Stevenson / The New York Times)Indianapolis - Richard G. Lugar, one of the Senate’s longest-serving members, a collegial moderate who personified a gentler political era, was turned out of office on Tuesday, ending a career that had spanned the terms of half a dozen presidents.

Mr. Lugar, a six-term senator from Indiana who had won most of his recent elections with more than 60 percent of the vote, lost a hard-fought Republican primary to Richard E. Mourdock, the state treasurer. Mr. Mourdock’s campaign was fueled by Tea Party groups and national conservative organizations that deemed Mr. Lugar too willing to compromise and poured millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat him.

Mr. Lugar, 80, had not faced a challenge from within his own party since his first election to the Senate in 1976, and his defeat seemed to serve as a caution to moderates on both sides of the aisle.

In February, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican, decided not to run for re-election, citing polarization in Washington. Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a Democratic fiscal centrist, and Jim Webb of Virginia, a moderate Democrat, are retiring. Two other moderate Democrats, Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, face tough re-election races.

Tea Party organizers and conservative leaders held the Indiana outcome as evidence of a broader national demand for Republicans with unshakable stances on fiscal reform and conservative values, as well as proof of the continuing power of the Tea Party movement.

“Richard Mourdock’s victory truly sends a message to the liberals in the Republican Party,“ said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “Voters are rejecting the policies that led to record debt and diminished economic freedom.”

For a number of Mr. Lugar’s supporters, the results were a sorry arc — not just for a man who has served for 35 years in Washington and as mayor of Indianapolis before that, but for a larger notion of trying to work across party lines in Washington.

Prominent Democrats, including President Obama, issued statements of appreciation on Tuesday night for Mr. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and for his work, particularly on the nation’s foreign affairs.

“While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said, “I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.”

Still, some Democrats, eager to hold onto the Senate, also seemed buoyed by the results here. With Mr. Lugar’s defeat, they see the glimmer of an opportunity to claim a Senate seat that the party had considered out of reach as long as he was in the running. The Democratic candidate, Representative Joe Donnelly, is thought to have a better chance with independents and moderate Republicans in November against Mr. Mourdock.

Almost immediately, Democrats began emphasizing Mr. Mourdock’s conservative views. “Hoosiers deserve real leadership that will reach across the aisle in Richard Lugar’s successor, not Richard Mourdock’s Tea Party extremism,” said Dan Parker, the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

For months, the campaign here had been intense, expensive and, by Indiana standards, mean. National groups including the Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association and FreedomWorks, which helped build the Tea Party movement, had viewed Mr. Lugar as a ripe and overdue target, and they poured millions of dollars into the state.

Mr. Lugar — who may be best known for his 1990s effort, along with Sam Nunn, a Democratic senator from Georgia, for a disarmament program in the former Soviet Union — was criticized throughout the campaign for what critics described as his tendency to cooperate with Democrats. He shifted to the right in 2011, after the threat to his re-election became clear.

Mr. Mourdock, meanwhile, has said that bipartisanship has led the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, and that the nation’s current circumstances call for a time of confrontation, not collegiality.

After his victory, he acknowledged his opponent. “I know what it’s like to lose — it’s not fun,” Mr. Mourdock told The Associated Press. “And especially after he’s given that 36 years in the Senate. I know he has to feel terrible tonight, and I truly feel badly for him.”

Some of Mr. Lugar’s critics accused him of being Mr. Obama’s closest Republican friend — a claim Mr. Lugar scoffed at, but also took questions about right up until Tuesday afternoon. They also railed against positions he took at various times in favor of Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, the Dream Act, the bank bailout, the nuclear arms control treaty and more.

Mr. Lugar’s supporters countered that he had maintained a conservative agenda over the years, for less government spending, a balanced-budget amendment and fewer regulations that harmed businesses.

For his part, Mr. Lugar sounded unbowed on Tuesday afternoon, arguing that most Americans were fed up with partisan battling and saying his race had evolved into a “playground” for outside interest groups.

If it felt peculiar to be entering an election day as an underdog — Democrats did not even field an opponent six years ago — Mr. Lugar did not show it. “This morning, I woke up after a good night’s sleep, just as before, ready with vim and vigor to make certain that we do the Lord’s fight today, and we’re going to do the best we can,” he said.

But for some here, Mr. Lugar’s troubles reached beyond questions of partisan loyalty. He was required this year to change his voter registration to the farm his family has owned for years rather than the Indianapolis house he sold in 1977 — an episode that underscored how long he had been in Washington and, in the view of some, how tenuous his ties to Indiana now felt.

“Everybody’s time comes,” said Ed Budd, who described himself as a Tea Party supporter and handed out Mourdock leaflets outside a polling place in Fairland on Tuesday when Mr. Lugar walked up looking, in Mr. Budd’s words, “diminished some” from the familiar image he had seen on television for so many years.

Throughout the day, voters for and against Mr. Lugar confided quietly that they felt sadness and discomfort as they witnessed the unfolding scene.

“This is all really painful to watch,” said Larry MacIntyre, a supporter of Mr. Lugar’s.

Many in a ballroom here on Tuesday night were crying as Mr. Lugar stepped onto a stage smiling and said he hoped Mr. Mourdock would prevail in the fall.

“We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now,” Mr. Lugar said as tears welled in the eyes of the family members lined up behind him. “These divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas. But these divisions are not insurmountable, and I believe that people of good will regardless of party can work together for the benefit of our country.”

Carl Hulse and Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting from Washington.

This article, "Long-Time Senator Lugar Loses Primary Challenge in Indiana," originally appears at the New York Times News Service.

© 2014 The New York Times Company Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.

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Long-Time Senator Lugar Loses Primary Challenge in Indiana

Wednesday, 09 May 2012 09:25 By Monica Davey, The New York Times News Service | Report

Senator Dick LugarSen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) speaks during his primary night party in Indianapolis, May 8, 2012. (Photo: Peter W. Stevenson / The New York Times)Indianapolis - Richard G. Lugar, one of the Senate’s longest-serving members, a collegial moderate who personified a gentler political era, was turned out of office on Tuesday, ending a career that had spanned the terms of half a dozen presidents.

Mr. Lugar, a six-term senator from Indiana who had won most of his recent elections with more than 60 percent of the vote, lost a hard-fought Republican primary to Richard E. Mourdock, the state treasurer. Mr. Mourdock’s campaign was fueled by Tea Party groups and national conservative organizations that deemed Mr. Lugar too willing to compromise and poured millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat him.

Mr. Lugar, 80, had not faced a challenge from within his own party since his first election to the Senate in 1976, and his defeat seemed to serve as a caution to moderates on both sides of the aisle.

In February, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican, decided not to run for re-election, citing polarization in Washington. Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a Democratic fiscal centrist, and Jim Webb of Virginia, a moderate Democrat, are retiring. Two other moderate Democrats, Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, face tough re-election races.

Tea Party organizers and conservative leaders held the Indiana outcome as evidence of a broader national demand for Republicans with unshakable stances on fiscal reform and conservative values, as well as proof of the continuing power of the Tea Party movement.

“Richard Mourdock’s victory truly sends a message to the liberals in the Republican Party,“ said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “Voters are rejecting the policies that led to record debt and diminished economic freedom.”

For a number of Mr. Lugar’s supporters, the results were a sorry arc — not just for a man who has served for 35 years in Washington and as mayor of Indianapolis before that, but for a larger notion of trying to work across party lines in Washington.

Prominent Democrats, including President Obama, issued statements of appreciation on Tuesday night for Mr. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and for his work, particularly on the nation’s foreign affairs.

“While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said, “I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.”

Still, some Democrats, eager to hold onto the Senate, also seemed buoyed by the results here. With Mr. Lugar’s defeat, they see the glimmer of an opportunity to claim a Senate seat that the party had considered out of reach as long as he was in the running. The Democratic candidate, Representative Joe Donnelly, is thought to have a better chance with independents and moderate Republicans in November against Mr. Mourdock.

Almost immediately, Democrats began emphasizing Mr. Mourdock’s conservative views. “Hoosiers deserve real leadership that will reach across the aisle in Richard Lugar’s successor, not Richard Mourdock’s Tea Party extremism,” said Dan Parker, the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

For months, the campaign here had been intense, expensive and, by Indiana standards, mean. National groups including the Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association and FreedomWorks, which helped build the Tea Party movement, had viewed Mr. Lugar as a ripe and overdue target, and they poured millions of dollars into the state.

Mr. Lugar — who may be best known for his 1990s effort, along with Sam Nunn, a Democratic senator from Georgia, for a disarmament program in the former Soviet Union — was criticized throughout the campaign for what critics described as his tendency to cooperate with Democrats. He shifted to the right in 2011, after the threat to his re-election became clear.

Mr. Mourdock, meanwhile, has said that bipartisanship has led the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, and that the nation’s current circumstances call for a time of confrontation, not collegiality.

After his victory, he acknowledged his opponent. “I know what it’s like to lose — it’s not fun,” Mr. Mourdock told The Associated Press. “And especially after he’s given that 36 years in the Senate. I know he has to feel terrible tonight, and I truly feel badly for him.”

Some of Mr. Lugar’s critics accused him of being Mr. Obama’s closest Republican friend — a claim Mr. Lugar scoffed at, but also took questions about right up until Tuesday afternoon. They also railed against positions he took at various times in favor of Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, the Dream Act, the bank bailout, the nuclear arms control treaty and more.

Mr. Lugar’s supporters countered that he had maintained a conservative agenda over the years, for less government spending, a balanced-budget amendment and fewer regulations that harmed businesses.

For his part, Mr. Lugar sounded unbowed on Tuesday afternoon, arguing that most Americans were fed up with partisan battling and saying his race had evolved into a “playground” for outside interest groups.

If it felt peculiar to be entering an election day as an underdog — Democrats did not even field an opponent six years ago — Mr. Lugar did not show it. “This morning, I woke up after a good night’s sleep, just as before, ready with vim and vigor to make certain that we do the Lord’s fight today, and we’re going to do the best we can,” he said.

But for some here, Mr. Lugar’s troubles reached beyond questions of partisan loyalty. He was required this year to change his voter registration to the farm his family has owned for years rather than the Indianapolis house he sold in 1977 — an episode that underscored how long he had been in Washington and, in the view of some, how tenuous his ties to Indiana now felt.

“Everybody’s time comes,” said Ed Budd, who described himself as a Tea Party supporter and handed out Mourdock leaflets outside a polling place in Fairland on Tuesday when Mr. Lugar walked up looking, in Mr. Budd’s words, “diminished some” from the familiar image he had seen on television for so many years.

Throughout the day, voters for and against Mr. Lugar confided quietly that they felt sadness and discomfort as they witnessed the unfolding scene.

“This is all really painful to watch,” said Larry MacIntyre, a supporter of Mr. Lugar’s.

Many in a ballroom here on Tuesday night were crying as Mr. Lugar stepped onto a stage smiling and said he hoped Mr. Mourdock would prevail in the fall.

“We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now,” Mr. Lugar said as tears welled in the eyes of the family members lined up behind him. “These divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas. But these divisions are not insurmountable, and I believe that people of good will regardless of party can work together for the benefit of our country.”

Carl Hulse and Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting from Washington.

This article, "Long-Time Senator Lugar Loses Primary Challenge in Indiana," originally appears at the New York Times News Service.

© 2014 The New York Times Company Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus