Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has been ruled ineligible to vote back home, a blow for the six-term Republican facing a Tea Party-backed primary challenger who says the senator is out of touch with his state.
The Marion County Election Board voted 2-1 along party lines today, with two Democratic members finding Lugar and his wife ineligible to vote in his home precinct. Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is registered to vote with an Indianapolis address of a home he sold in 1977. He now lives in northern Virginia.
The board ruled there is “substantial reason” to believe a non-criminal election violation occurred because the Lugars “abandoned” their Indiana residence, losing their right to vote there.
In a statement, Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said the senator and his wife “scrupulously complied” with state law and that three Indiana attorneys general have issued opinions stating that Lugar complied with residency requirements. The state allows a past residence to be considered Congress members’ home for voting purposes while they are in office, Fisher said.
“The Lugars have also sought and followed the express direction of every legitimate government authority to have addressed the question,” Fisher said.
Lugar Can Appeal
A spokeswoman for the Marion County board, Angie Nussmeyer, said Lugar can appeal the decision to a local court. He could register to vote from another residence. The Lugar family owns a farm in the county, although it isn’t clear whether it would satisfy the requirement for a residence.
The ruling won’t affect Lugar’s ability to seek re-election in November. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a Republican, is challenging Lugar in his May 8 primary. The deadline to file for the primary is April 9. The winner will run against Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Donnelly.
Lugar prevailed in an earlier challenge by Mourdock backers to his ability to be on the ballot. The Indiana Election Commission last month ruled Lugar is eligible to seek re-election.
The residency controversy doesn’t help Lugar, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
On the Defensive
“I don’t think this is going to decide the election, but the senator and his team just can’t shake this residency story,” Gonzales said. “Constantly being on the defensive isn’t good for any incumbent.”
Mourdock is a one-time coal-company geologist who in 2010 won re-election as state treasurer. He claims support of most of the state’s 92 Republican county chairmen and is drawing support of outside conservative groups. That includes the anti-tax group Club for Growth and Freedomworks, a group led by former Republican House Majority Leader Richard Armey that supports the Tea Party Movement.
FreedomWorks operates a super-PAC that can make unlimited donations to support or oppose candidates. It has spent more than $30,000 against Lugar so far and $65,000 to aid Mourdock’s candidacy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign giving. Russ Walker, political director of the super-PAC, said more money will pour in to defeat Lugar in coming weeks.
Lugar has a substantial advantage in his campaign war chest. At the end of December, he reported having more than $4 million in cash on hand for his re-election fund. That compared with the Mourdock campaign’s $362,699. Donnelly had $846,956.
A former aide to Lugar has established a Super-PAC to support Lugar’s push for a seventh Senate term. The Indiana Values Super PAC has raised $10,000 so far. It hasn’t made any independent expenditures, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mourdock’s campaign yesterday aired a TV ad in Indianapolis saying Lugar is disconnected from Indiana. Lugar left the state for Washington in 1977, “when disco topped the charts and leisure suits were in style,” the ad said. He went on to vote against conservatives on immigration, the 2008 bank bailout and for both of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, the ad said.
“The fact that Senator Lugar hired a team of high-priced lawyers to fight for his right to use a legal technicality so that he doesn’t have to live among Hoosiers just proves our point about how out of touch he is,” Chris Conner, a Mourdock spokesman, said.