Richard Lugar speaks at the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce last year.
In an election result that was hardly surprising to political experts and Washington insiders, longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar has been defeated in the state’s Republican Senate primary by tea party-backed conservative Richard Mourdock. Lugar, 80, may have been the longest-serving senator in Indiana history but his defeat comes amid a time of record high anti-incumbent sentiment toward members of Congress.
Lugar, 80, along with Utah’s Orrin Hatch, is the longest serving Republican in the Senate. But like GOP senators Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Bob Bennett in Utah, and Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2010, Lugar found himself challenged by those in his party who decided he was not conservative enough on federal spending.
And Republican insiders in Washington said Lugar seemed to underestimate the seriousness of the challenge that Mourdock posed.
“Lugar’s team was warned in the beginning of 2011,” says a top Republican aide familiar with the conservations between Lugar’s side and national GOP leaders, who huddled after a series of incumbent Republicans went down in defeat in the 2010 primaries. “We walked through everything that Bob Bennett, Lisa Murkowski, and Mike Castle had done wrong in not taking their primaries seriously enough. Those lessons were not heeded.”
Instead, the aide said, Lugar went into 2011 as he had all six previous election cycles, when the senator never drew a primary opponent and had just one serious Democratic challenge over the course of his 36-year Senate career.
But the 2012 cycle has proved different for Lugar in every way, with a well-funded challenger, outside conservative interest groups spending millions to unseat him, and, most important, a series of embarrassing episodes prompting questions of whether he could even vote in the state at all. These questions reinforced growing complaints from local Republicans that they rarely, if ever, saw Lugar at local GOP events, or even working the state, throughout his career.