Lugar loss should be warning for Democrats and Republicans

Defeat of longtime Indiana lawmaker indicates anti-incumbent sentiment among voters

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 8:45 AM
Last updated 9:18 AM
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VALPARAISO, Ind. — Veteran Sen. Richard Lugar’s loss in the Indiana GOP primary provides warnings for President Barack Obama and his Democrats as well as Mitt Romney and fellow Republicans six months before the November election.

Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock speaks to supporters in Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 8, 2012, after he defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the primary.   AP
AP
Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock speaks to supporters in Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 8, 2012, after he defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the primary.

In one state at least, anti-incumbent sentiment is coursing through the electorate, a potentially ominous sign for the incumbent Democratic president seeking a second term and lawmakers of all political stripes. The GOP also remains deeply split between the establishment wing and insurgent tea party, a fissure that underscores the challenge the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and other GOP candidates face in the months ahead to unite the party.

“We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now,” Lugar, 80, one of the nation’s longest-serving senators, said in a statement after the results were known. “These divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas. But these divisions are not insurmountable.”

The loss of Lugar — who boasted of strong conservative credentials but was lambasted by critics for working with Democrats — also highlights the degree to which deal-makers are becoming a rarity on a Capitol Hill often consumed by partisan gridlock. He follows Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a moderate known for bipartisanship, in leaving the Senate at year’s end. Others too, including former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., have left in recent years.

Ultimately, it was Lugar’s efforts to cross party lines and his longevity in Washington — two issues that tea party-backed challenger Richard Mourdock used against him — that proved too much for Indiana Republicans.

“Sen. Lugar has sided too many times with the Democrats,” Stacy Rutkowski of Valparaiso, who voted for Mourdock, said on her way out of her polling place. “He’s been there six terms, and it’s time for some new blood.”

A few hours after conceding, Lugar slammed Mourdock for embracing “groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.”

“This is not conducive to problem solving and governance,” Lugar said. “And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve.”

Broadly, Lugar’s defeat may create an opportunity for Democrats working to hang onto a narrow four-seat majority in the Senate. National party leaders vowed to help centrist Democrat Joe Donnelly, a three-term House member from South Bend, compete against Mourdock, the conservative state treasurer, in a Senate race the party otherwise would have bypassed.

But whether Democrats follow through with that pledge — and go all in for Donnelly by spending large sums of money in the race — is an open question. Indiana has been a hard place for Democrats to win. Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election since 1964, and he did so by a single percentage point, turning out vast numbers from the Chicago-influenced urban and industrial region in Indiana’s northwest.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter said the race, with Lugar out, “could move in a more competitive direction.” The group and a political action committee that supports Democratic candidates began attacking Mourdock even before the polls were closed. Both described him as out of step with not just mainstream Republicans, but mainstream voters.

Democratic strategist Tad Devine said Mourdock’s conservative profile has Democrats optimistic about their chances despite Indiana’s Republican trend. Said Devine, “If the Senate race turns out to be a moderate Democrat and an out-of-step Republican, moderate voters who regret that they can’t vote for Lugar will help Donnelly.”

But Republican strategist Phil Musser doubts the state will be in play come the fall.

“Nationally, Democrats will throw a lot of money into it quickly. I’m not one who believes it will be a competitive Senate race,” said Musser, a former Romney aide.

The race illustrated vulnerabilities for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Incumbents, Obama included, are at risk no matter their party at a time when the economically struggling public is sour over anyone linked to Washington. So, it seems, are lawmakers with a history of working with members of the opposite party.

Just ask Lugar.

Mourdock hounded the veteran senator over questions about his Virginia home — and Indiana residency — and his long Washington ties. The challenger also took Lugar to task over his collaboration with Obama. The two worked together on nonproliferation issues, and Lugar was one of only a handful of Republicans to vote to confirm Obama’s two appointments to the Supreme Court.

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Little Lamb
40139
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Little Lamb 05/09/12 - 09:12 am
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2

Leftward Slant

The story has the leftward slant expected from most any Associated Press reporter, but the story brings hope for a Republican majority in the Senate in 2013. With Lugar out of the way and a Mourdock victory in November, whatever Republicans are up there will be less likely to support Harry Reid and his minions.

Oh, and octagenarians do not need to be in the Senate, just as septuagenarians (McCain and Gingrich) do not need to be in the White House.

Little Lamb
40139
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Little Lamb 05/09/12 - 09:14 am
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Blue turning red

If Indiana, Colorado and North Carolina return to their senses and reject Obama in 2012 (they all voted for BHO in 2008), then Romney is in office.

allhans
21955
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allhans 05/09/12 - 09:18 am
1
0

The Luger loss seems to be a

The Luger loss seems to be a big item. CNN says it is all about his voting with Obama.
I say (along with the voters interviewed), that after 35 years, a 80 year old needs to be retired.
This entire debate is about nothing of interest.

OJP
4662
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OJP 05/09/12 - 10:00 am
3
0

Not quite, Little Lamb

The President received 365 electoral votes in 2008. Colorado (9), North Carolina (15), and Indiana (11), have a combined electoral vote of only 35.

Losing those three states only knocks him down to 330 - Romney would still needs 61 more votes.

ETA: 61 would force a vote in the House (where, presumably, the GOP would vote for Romney unless they lose the majority in the election).

BloodySunday
77
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BloodySunday 05/09/12 - 10:07 am
2
0

How can a Republican loss be

How can a Republican lost be a warning for the president and Democrats, we need more comptent news editor? Lugar was Republican ( he was a champion for leting student loans interest double) and this is a warning for House Republicans, not Pres. Obama and Democrats. Lugar's lost is just the start of cleaning house. Republican Speaker Boehner's admission that the Republicans' hold on the House is in jeopardy.

allhans
21955
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allhans 05/09/12 - 01:28 pm
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1

BloodySunday. What are you

BloodySunday. What are you missing here? A conservative Republican defeated a moderate Republican who by nature of birth is 80 years old and his time has come.

Did you think a Democrate won?

Granddaddy John
101
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Granddaddy John 05/09/12 - 03:12 pm
0
0

ITS -WE THE PEOPLE NOT WE THE

Unpublished

ITS -WE THE PEOPLE NOT WE THE GOVERNMENT.WE ARE SICK AND TIRED AND WE ARE GOING TO TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK ONE WAY ARE ANOTHER.

Conservative Man
4578
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Conservative Man 05/09/12 - 05:38 pm
0
1

This isn't as much about

This isn't as much about anti-incumbent sentiment as much as it is about an anti-centrist sentiment...Lugar was widely regarded as a moderate who sympathized with Dems on too many issues. What's funny to me is the media's spin, that someone has been defeated that was willing to be bi-partisan and "work with" Dems.That tells me in Indiana, voters have had enough of "working with" the Dems. They want to defeat them......cool!!

itsanotherday1
34698
Points
itsanotherday1 05/10/12 - 08:58 am
0
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Like so many others have

Like so many others have said, it was past time for this old geezer to get out of the way. I don't read a lot into it beyond the Indiana people being tired of the status quo, and wanting new blood. I hope voters on both sides of the aisle do the same thing in their states.

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