Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lugar In Tea Party Crosshairs

Richard Lugar is an icon. At 78 years old, he seems healthy and is a respected moderate voice in a Republican Party that has moved far to the right.

That might just be his downfall.

Reports are surfacing that Indiana’s Senior Senator might be in line for a Tea Party-backed primary challenger in 2012. Now, it finally looks like there may be some faces put to the challenge list.

One of those faces is the arch-conservative Mike Delph. The State Senator has backed everything from a marriage amendment to the Indiana Constitution to an Arizona-style immigration bill. When you talk to him face-to-face, he’s a nice enough guy, but his conservatism on social issues is near right wingnut level. Thus, he fits right in with many Tea Partiers.

Another name that’s being circulated is that of Joe Arpaio’s buddy, Richard Mourdock. The Indiana State Treasurer swept back into office on the Republican tide that gave wide majorities on both sides of the Indiana General Assembly to Governor Mitch Daniels. Mourdock has also been linked to Tea Party Must-See-TV host, Glenn Beck, as they both headlined a fundraiser last year.

Some of the re-treads that ran against Dan Coats in the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate Primary can also be expected to perhaps throw their hats into the ring.

What does it mean for Richard Lugar?

Lugar pulls support from both sides of the aisle even though he has a strong conservative voting record. I don't see Lugar completely abandoning his core values (like John McCain did in Arizona), and I think he will be himself. Lugar is thoughtful and responsive to his constituents, and I was impressed when I met him at a Decatur Township Education Foundation function a few years back. It was fun to watch him pose for pictures, sign autographs, and discuss policy with everyone that came up to him (even though his handlers were trying to pull him away). Richard Lugar was the last one to leave that room.

Lugar's biggest problem is that he's had it easy for a long, long time. He hasn't had a difficult election since his win over Floyd Fithian in 1982 where he captured 53 percent of the vote. Since then he has not gotten less than 66.6 percent of the vote. Essentially, it's been 30 years since he's had a challenge of any sort.

2012 will be different. You can bet that the far right will take their shots at Lugar early, but I think it will be hard to make them stick. Unlike Dan Coats, Lugar is a Hoosier through and through who may be wrong on many issues, but he has never simply walked away from his native state like Coats did. Many feel that he’s a person of impeccable character and intelligence. He doesn’t have the dubious ties to lobbying that Coats does. In fact, even Democrats can be proud of the way Lugar has conducted himself…even if they don’t agree with him on nearly anything. A crowded primary field gives Lugar the easy nomination especially if guys like Mourdock and Delph enter the race.

If the primary is bruising, it may leave open the door for a Democratic challenger in the wings. Who that challenger might be, I don't know. After all, Dems didn't even bother to put anyone on the ballot in 2006, and Lugar received 87 percent of the vote.

Lugar and Evan Bayh have spent much of the last 12 years either just slightly to the left or right of each other, and they have failed to engage in the many times partisan bomb throwing that goes on in Washington. Instead, they have made those in their own parties mad by throwing the shade on their own at times. For Bayh, I think it was more calculated. I just think Lugar is a reasonable guy.

That doesn’t mean that I will be crossing over in the 2012 Primary to vote for Lugar or that he even has my vote for the General Election, either. It just means that Lugar is an entirely different animal. A campaign to defeat him will have to leave out Lugar the man and attack him on his positions. If someone tries to tear Lugar's character down, I think that will be the quickest way to a defeat.

It's possible to beat Richard Lugar in the primary, but I just don't think it's likely.


Chris Vanasdalan said...

I covered a Tea Party rally in Kokomo this past September (featuring Jackie Walorksi running against Joe Donnelly). One of the biggest reactions from the crowd came when a speaker promised that the Tea Party would set it's sights on Lugar in 2012.

I'd agree that it would be a massive challenge to campaign against him. I'm just disappointed Lugar hasn't been more vocal as the party is overtaken by the extreme right. He seems a little too willing to go with the flow. Hedging his bets I guess.

Anonymous said...

I have much more respect for Lugar than I do Bayh. While Lugar has been disappointing with his silence during the wacko takeover of the GOP, he is intelligent and not afraid to vote and speak up when he disagrees with his leaders. Bayh can never take a position without first taking a poll. I don't think Bayh is a very deep thinker and a real lightweight. I hope we don't get a rerun of him in the Governor's office.