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Lugar's frustration surfaces after Indiana defeat

May 9, 2012
Lugar loses primary
Sen. Richard Lugar reacts after giving his concession speech Tuesday evening. (AP Photo)

Conceding defeat for the first time in nearly four decades, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar embodied his reputation as a diplomat by graciously pledging to support the tea party-backed rival who had just ousted him by carrying 61 percent of the vote.

But hours later, the Indiana Republican's tone changed dramatically. His campaign issued a scathing statement Tuesday night chastising primary winner Richard Mourdock for his partisan ways and lamenting a Washington, D.C., that doesn't value compromise.

"I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other," the 80-year-old senator wrote. "Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc."

He saved the sharpest criticism for Mourdock, slamming the state treasurer for embracing "groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it."

"This is not conducive to problem solving and governance," Lugar said. "And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve."

The comments underscored the frustration for the longtime face of Indiana politics who built a career on his willingness to compromise and broker deals, only to see those traits become a liability for Indiana's conservative electorate.

Mourdock, who had lost four other political races before being elected as the state's treasurer, said he read the election results as a vote for his candidacy, not against Lugar's.

"He is not now my enemy," Mourdock, who will face Rep. Joe Donnelly in November, said in his victory speech. "He will never be my enemy. He was simply over the last 15 months my opponent ... this race is not about animosity. It's about ideas."

While the challenger took the high road, former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Souder said Lugar's statement sounded like it was written by staff members trying to save their own careers after a disastrous campaign.

"This is petty," said Souder, who stayed out of the primary battle. "If he's going to re-emerge at some sort of state department position or Cabinet post, there are lots of different things you can do. But when you whine and get defensive, you draw it out. You get another cycle of stories. What you do when you lose is you cut your losses."



As the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar has long been considered one of the Congress' experts on foreign policy. He is a leading voice for a nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia and has often been mentioned as a potential Cabinet secretary. During a 2008 presidential debate, then-candidate Barack Obama suggested even he might consider the Indiana senator for a job in his administration.

That was too much for tea party Republicans and other conservatives who have shunned compromise with the president and other Democrats.

After the election results were announced, Obama praised Lugar, saying he "served his constituents and his country well."

Mourdock, who lost three races for Congress between 1988 and 1992 and a race for secretary of state in 2002, ran on claims that his conservative credentials better represent the state. He got a big boost from outside groups that poured millions into the race, attacking Lugar on his record.

They also had a field day with a challenge over whether he was eligible to vote in the state, where he hadn't had a home since being elected to the Senate in 1977. Lugar, who hadn't faced questions about his residency in decades, suddenly found himself on the defensive over whether he lived in Indiana or northern Virginia.

Lugar tried to convince voters that he was more electable than Mourdock. He pointed to Senate races in 2010 where tea party candidates won the Republican nomination in Colorado, Delaware and Nevada but lost to Democrats in the general election, foiling opportunities for Republicans to pick up those seats.

His departure further depletes the ranks of moderates in the Senate. Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jim Webb of Virginia have said they won't seek re-election, and several other moderates face tough races ahead.

Many voters said Tuesday that they backed Mourdock after supporting Lugar for years, citing criticisms that had never mattered before but that he struggled this time to shake, including questions over his age, connection to the state, use of attack ads and conservative credentials.

Rob Dalton, a 52-year-old handyman from Indianapolis, said he had supported Lugar previously but voted for Mourdock because he felt Lugar had been in Washington too long.

"Lugar's been there too long, and I want a change," he said. "There's a lot of good old boy politics going on. We need new blood."

Obama carried Indiana in 2008, partly because of his ties to the populous northwestern part of the state neighboring his hometown of Chicago. Democrats acknowledge it will be difficult to win Indiana again this year. Still, the state could become more hospitable to Obama if the Democrats spend heavily to compete against Mourdock.

Lugar, who hadn't lost an election since his first Senate race in 1974, said he had no regrets about seeking re-election and will not run as an independent in November.

"I am a Republican now and always have been," he said. "I have no desire to run as anything else."

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