Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist announced he is backing Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock over U.S. Senator Richard Lugar in the state’s May 8 Republican primary, a blow for the six-term incumbent days before his toughest re-election challenge.
Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he made the decision after Mourdock agreed to sign his group’s pledge never to vote to raise taxes. Lugar hasn’t agreed to that pledge, which has been signed by most Republicans in Congress.
“Dick Lugar has refused to and said that he wants to leave the door open to tax increases in the future,” Norquist said in a conference call with reporters. He chastised Lugar for working with lawmakers in both parties in the 1980s and 1990s on two balanced-budget deals that included tax increases and spending cuts -- with the program cuts failing to fully materialize.
Norquist’s move is the latest setback for Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also has been targeted by attack ads funded by the super-PAC of FreedomWorks, which supports the Tea Party movement, and the small-government group Club for Growth. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, endorsed Mourdock April 27.
Lugar said today that while he has been friends with Norquist, he won’t sign his no-new-taxes pledge.
‘I Represent the People’
“I have not signed pledges of any sort,” Lugar said in an interview after a tour of Batesville Tool & Die Inc. in Batesville, Indiana. “I represent the people of this state.”
Lugar, 80, pointed to his endorsements by groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as evidence of his record as an advocate for limited government.
“I voted very fiscally conservative for 35 years,” he said.
So far, little independent polling has been conducted in the contest. A March 26-28 poll of 503 likely Republican voters by Howey Politics Indiana and DePauw University showed Lugar ahead of Mourdock, 42 percent to 35 percent. The poll’s error margin was plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.
The race has tightened since then, and Lugar risks losing to Mourdock in the primary, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
‘Trending Against Him’
“Lugar is in a significant amount of danger,” Gonzales said. “I think the race is trending against him. The question is: Is there enough time for Mourdock to pull this off?”
Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said yesterday that Indiana voters don’t favor lawmakers who make ironclad promises to special interests.
Fisher also said Lugar’s campaign is making a “massive get-out-the-vote” effort, and that the campaign is “in pretty good shape.”
“We feel that the contacts that we’re making through our phone bank in the final days are going to be very successful,” he said.
Mourdock, 60, said today he’s also confident his voter mobilization efforts will give him the edge.
“We have a tremendous ground game,” he said during the conference call with Norquist. “Our ground game is coming together even better than I imagined.”
First elected in 1976, Lugar and Orrin Hatch of Utah are the U.S. Senate’s two longest-serving Republicans. Hatch, 78, also has faced opposition from FreedomWorks, and last month he fell 32 votes short of winning his party’s nomination at a state party convention. Hatch faces a June 26 primary against former state Senator Dan Liljenquist.
Opposition to Lugar
Lugar is opposed by conservative groups for supporting the 2008 bank bailout, a pathway to citizenship for children of some illegal immigrants, and a strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia he helped steer through the Senate in 2010.
He also has been hampered by a challenge to his state residency amid criticism that he hasn’t spent enough time in Indiana. A Democrat-controlled county elections board ruled in March that Lugar was ineligible to vote in his home precinct because he and his wife registered using the Indianapolis address of a home he sold in 1977. A settlement was reached allowing Lugar to change his voter registration address to a family farm in Indiana.
Mourdock is a former coal-company geologist who in 2010 won re-election as state treasurer. He claims the support of most of the state’s 92 Republican county chairmen.
Lugar has been airing TV ads that tout his credentials and experience and attack Mourdock. He has the support of two independent super-PACs designed to aid his candidacy, the Indiana Values super-PAC -- led by a former Lugar chief of staff -- and Hoosiers for Economic Growth and Jobs.
Still, he lost the help of another ally, the non-profit independent expenditure group American Action Network, which has supported Lugar and other vulnerable Republican incumbents. The group, which was running ads attacking Mourdock, decided several days ago to pull out of the race, said Dan Conston, a spokesman for the group.
“We’re going to let this race play out,” Conston said.
Gonzales said Lugar made a series of missteps in his primary race, including waiting too long to become actively engaged. While Lugar raised more money than Mourdock personally -- $5.9 million compared with $2.3 million for his rival as of March 31 -- he hasn’t adjusted to a time when outside groups can negate the advantage, Gonzales said.
“He hasn’t been aware enough of the new political reality that long-time experience is not valued the way it once was,” Gonzales said.
The winner of the May 8 primary will face Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly in the general election.