Lugar Loses Primary to Tea Party-Backed Mourdock
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was derailed in his bid for a seventh term, losing in the Republican primary to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in what one of Lugar’s Democratic colleagues called a “tragedy.”
The defeat of Lugar, 80, underscored the strength among Republicans of Tea Party activism against veteran leadership. Mourdock, 60, was backed by groups active in the Tea Party movement and based much of his campaign on criticizing Lugar for compromising too much with Democrats.
“This is a tragedy for the Senate,” Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said in a statement. He called Lugar “a class act” whose contributions to issues of national prominence “can’t be replicated.”
President Barack Obama hailed Lugar for his “bipartisan cooperation” and vital role on national security and arms control. “He was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done,” Obama said in a statement.
Lugar said that he hopes Mourdock wins the November election for the Senate seat, the Associated Press reported. Conceding before a crowd of cheering supporters in Indianapolis, Lugar said he has “no regrets” about seeking another term and will support Mourdock against Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly, the AP reported.
Appeal for Contributions
In an e-mail that addressed his supporters as “patriots” and appealed for donations, Mourdock said, “We just pulled off a historic upset.” He said Donnelly has raised funds “to smear us” in the November campaign.
Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first won his seat in 1976 and is Indiana’s longest serving member of Congress.
With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Mourdock had 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Lugar, according to the AP tally.
Polls had shown Lugar as the likely victor a few months ago. Mourdock gained as he pressed his case against Lugar and outside groups targeted the incumbent with attack ads.
All told, the candidates and independent groups spent $4.96 million on ads on major TV networks through May 7, according to estimates released today by New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising.
Lugar came under fire for supporting the bank bailout passed in 2008, shepherding nuclear arms treaties through the Senate and voting for Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees.
Democrats say Donnelly, a member of the House’s centrist Blue Dog coalition, will have a better chance against Mourdock than Lugar, and a Mourdock defeat in November would make it harder for Republicans to gain a majority in the Senate. Democrats control the chamber, 53-47.
Lugar didn’t have a major-party opponent in his last election in 2006, when seniority and an ability to work across party lines were seen by most voters as assets. He won his three previous general elections with about two-thirds of the vote.
Mourdock was backed by FreedomWorks, which aids the Tea Party movement, and the small-government group Club for Growth. He also was endorsed by anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, and Tea Party favorites Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, and Republican representative and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
Tea Party Clout
Today’s vote shows that the Tea Party movement retains some of the clout it had in the 2010 midterm elections. That year, Republican Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Senator Lisa Murkowski lost their party nominations to candidates pushing more aggressively for small government. Murkowski then ran as an independent and won re-election against Republican nominee Joe Miller. Bennett was replaced in the Senate by Mike Lee, a Tea Party-backed Republican.
Ed Feigenbaum, editor of the nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Insight newsletter, said Lugar didn’t engage enough early in the race and let Mourdock define him. In recent weeks, Lugar engaged in attacks ads that went against his above-the- fray image and created confusion by criticizing Mourdock on a number of issues, he said.
“Lugar and his people have had a political deaf ear toward this whole campaign,” said Feigenbaum, editor of the nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Insight newsletter in Noblesville.
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