The Indiana Election Commission is being asked to determine whether U.S. Senator Richard Lugar is a resident of the state and deserving of a place on this year’s ballot.
The Tea Party-backed challenge gives Democrats a new avenue of attack in a race in which their candidate starts out with a financial disadvantage against the six-term Republican.
“Whether or not it’s legal, it’s not right,” Ben Ray, a spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a telephone interview, referring to Lugar’s residency status.
If Lugar survives the primary, he would face Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Donnelly, who has been making a point on his campaign kickoff tour of telling voters that he works in Washington, then spends most weekends in Indiana.
Backers of Lugar’s challenger in the May 8 Republican primary, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, asked for the ruling on the legality of Lugar’s candidacy, given that Lugar sold his home in Indiana in 1977 after he was first elected to the Senate and moved his family to McLean, Virginia.
The complaint is on the agenda of the Feb. 24 meeting of the four-member Election Commission.
Lugar’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment today.
The senator told RTV 6, an Indianapolis television station, he had received assurances from two state attorneys general that his “residency situation” was “proper and correct.”
The station also reported that Lugar said he wasn’t sure of the address on his driver’s license, and presumed it listed the house he sold in 1977.
As 2012 began, Lugar had a 4-to-1 cash advantage over both Donnelly and Mourdock.
Lugar’s campaign reported $4.04 million on hand, compared with $847,000 for the Donnelly campaign and $363,000 reported by the Mourdock campaign.
On Feb. 14, the anti-tax group Club for Growth endorsed Mourdock. Lugar subsequently started running a television ad labeling Mourdock a “mudslinger,” according to a report in the Evansville Courier and Press.
In an e-mailed statement, Mourdock spokesman Chris Conner said the campaign was making the argument that Lugar is out of touch. “He has actively chosen not to live in our state since 1977 so he doesn’t hear the concerns of the people of our state,” the spokesman said.