Tea party sees Lugar as best target in Senate

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The tea party movement's best remaining hope in 2012 for picking off an incumbent Republican in the Senate has boiled down to one state, Indiana, where six-term Sen. Richard Lugar still faces a challenge from the right.

Polls show Lugar is vulnerable and his record, dotted with votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and other government spending, is ripe for conservative critique, despite decades as one of the Senate's foreign policy experts. But the tea party candidate challenging him in the GOP primary, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, lacks Lugar's heft and name recognition.

It looked for a time as if three longtime Senate moderates—Orrin Hatch of Utah, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lugar—were in danger of being taken down by primary challenges from the right. But the upstart campaigns in Utah and Maine have fizzled as Hatch and Snowe made concerted efforts to woo right-wing voters in their states.

That leaves Mourdock, who has been running for months with little attention, as the tea party's best shot in the Senate.

He is millions of dollars behind Lugar in fundraising. He only recently began to seal the support of national tea party groups, and his message still hasn't reached voters who are looking for an alternative to the incumbent.

Matt Barns, a Republican voter from Indianapolis, knows precious little about Mourdock, even though he is inclined to support him.

Ask him about Lugar, though, and Barns' thoughts are clear.

"It's time for him to be put to pasture," Barns said.

Gary Meltzer, an undecided GOP primary voter from Indianapolis, said Mourdock will have to work harder if he's going to succeed.

"He needs to get better advertising out there, because Lugar is too well known," said Meltzer, 63.

Lugar has advantages that his Senate colleagues in 2010 didn't have.

"Incumbents have a luxury of seeing what happened last time, so you won't catch anybody off guard," said Brian Nick, a Republican strategist and Indiana native, referring to the tea party's primary successes in 2010. "If you're underfunded, you sometimes benefit from the incumbent or the establishment candidate being a little lackadaisical or resting on their laurels. I don't think that's the case with Sen. Lugar."

But Mourdock's campaign said it was building up methodically to Indiana's May 2012 primary.

"We are focused on doing what we need to do to win this race, and we are not privy to the timetable of other organizations and their decision processes," Mourdock spokesman Chris Conner said.

Mourdock's camp touts high-profile endorsements from Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, flat-tax proponent Steve Forbes and conservative blogger Erick Erickson. Aides say they've put in more time courting activists than Lugar and that will pay off in time for the state's May 2012 primary.

The Tea Party Express, a national group, recently endorsed Mourdock shortly after a group of Indiana tea partyers officially approved his campaign. The conservative FreedomWorks is also set to endorse Mourdock on Oct. 21, said a Republican aide familiar with the group's upcoming endorsement. That aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because the aide was not allowed to speak publicly for the group.

There are significant holdouts, though.

The Club for Growth, which earlier this summer poured thousands of dollars into ads attacking Lugar, hasn't endorsed Mourdock. The group's spokesman, Barney Keller, said his organization hadn't made a decision on the race.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative kingmaker, has stayed out of the race because Lugar was DeMint's mentor when DeMint was first elected.

Those holdouts have hurt Mourdock most in the pocketbook. Lugar practically has the state's entire established donor base committed to him and has a huge cash advantage to show for it. As of July, Lugar had $3.5 million to spend compared with about $215,000 for Mourdock.

GOP operative Ryan Erwin said Mourdock will have to show he is a good candidate running a good campaign before voters unseat Lugar.

"Tea party values are always electable, ... but a bad candidate or a bad campaign is never going to win," Erwin said.



  • A Great Indiana Asset
    Dick Lugar brings (and has always brought) an intelligent, nuanced approach to the issues facing the city of Indianapolis, the stae of Indiana, the U.S., and the international community. While I have not always agreed with every single vote he has cast during his Senate career, I still think he is an asset to the Senate and to the state of Indiana. He has my vote.
  • Time to go - Senator Chameleon
    When any incumbent who holds any office is AGAINST term limits - we (the people) no longer need that person in office. I care not about their creditials, experience or "war chest".

    WAKE UP people of Indiana - let's elect someone to Washington DC that truly wants to SERVE us ... not the Party they stamp both of their "cheeks" to.

    Yes, no doubt Senator Lugar has done some good in his years in the Senate - but today, he is just "out of step" with the electorate. Just like Senator Birch Bayh rememebr him) who was swept out of office in 1980 after a long tenure - people are elected to serve, serve their appropriate time clearly and consistently representing the people who elected them ... and then moving on. Given Senator Lugar's voting record of the last three (3) years ... to which "party, group of people, or organization does he belong too" and clearly represent??? It clearly is not the majority of people from the State of Indiana!

    Again ... WAKE UP !!!

  • A Great Man
    Many people complain about their Senators who have never experienced some of the inner workings of the Senate. It is easy to criticize from afar. I have had the privilege to work with Senator Lugar in a issue regarding a foreign adoption. Not only has Senator Lugar been a tireless advocate for my son, but when we have tried to enlist other senators to join our cause, the respect that all of the other senators have for him made it quite easy to gain their support. From the words of one Senator, "If Dick Lugar thinks this is important, then so do I".

    I fear the day that the voters of Indiana don't realize what an incredible honor it is to have Richard Lugar serving in congress.
  • Is Mourdock honest?
    Lugar is one of the few real statesmen left, one of the few people who actually does anything except posture, and can actually get things accomplished. He is one of the few people who has supported doing something about the economy, while tea party Republicans have done everything they can to deliberately sabotage the economy just so they can unseat Obama, if the common man/woman suffers another year or two, so what?...and there are some questions about whteher or not Mourdock is as honest as you say...IBJ has run articles before about his stock market and investment trading before. Tea party values are fine, but the people who identify themselves with the tea party today for the most part bear no resemblance to the patriots who started this country...they like the sloganeering, but they really just stand for their own individual selfish interest. Good luck to Senator Lugar...
  • Here's what it come down to ...
    Mr. Lugar has been called by President Obama, "his favorite Republican". If that ALONE doesn't bother you, then nothing else will. By the way, for "getting along with the other side of the aisle", Mr. Lugar voted to approval BOTH of President Obama's Supreme Court Justices. Neither had any bench experience ... again no-bs just reality!

    Mr. Lugar is indeed a significant part of the problem in Washington.

  • Precisely the problem
    no-bs [sic] says, "Do 10% of Hoosiers,or Americans for that matter,even know what a Foreign Policy Experts does?"

    The answer is apparently not -- and why it has been so frustrating for those of us who do. The Senate and House regularly vote on measures that affect how other governments view -- and treat -- the US. Miscalculations raise tariffs on our goods, create angry regimes, and threaten our lives or jobs. Unless we have people in the Senate who ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND what they are voting on, we endanger ourselves. I don't agree with much of what Lugar believes domestically, but I recognize that he is one of the very few who knows the go-to people in other countries and how they should be treated.

    There used to be a party who proudly called themselves the Know-Nothings...
  • Mourdock and Lugar
    Richard Mourdock is working "very hard". We held a fundraiser for him and he is going all over the state. He is running because he was approached to do so.
    He is conservative and honest. It is time for Lugar to go.
  • Foolish
    There are many Tea Party positions I can support, but not this one. At a time when our foreign policy is even more critical, to toss the acknowledged expert, with respect from both sides of the aisle, is ridiculous. This is a move that is bad for the Republican Party, bad for Indiana and bad for the United States. If Mourdock didn't want his current job, why did he run for it? I think he and the tea partyers are short-sighted, and selfish.

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