The 2010 midterms generated more than the usual number of epic GOP Senate primary battles: Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist, Rand Paul vs. Trey Grayson, Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle. One of the biggest, if not the biggest battle of this coming year is likely to occur in Indiana, where six-term incumbent senator Richard Lugar is likely to face a tough push from Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mourdock recently spoke with NRO.
NRO: The first and the most basic question for any candidate: Why are you running?
RICHARD MOURDOCK: Simply stated, because I believe we have to change direction in the United States Senate. As our budget problems show, we keep kicking the can down the road instead of dealing with them. We need to make some hard decisions, and I’m not sure that the body that is there today is ready to make the hard decisions. I think we need some new voices in the Senate.
: What happened to Richard Lugar?
MOURDOCK: First of all, as I always say, I have great respect for Senator Lugar. Anyone who serves almost 50 years in public life deserves the respect of everyone. But I think, and I hear it often, that Senator Lugar is now perceived here in Indiana as having a worldview rather than a Hoosier view. I think there comes a time — and I don’t care who you are, Democrat, Republican, man, or woman — that if you spend enough time in Washington, D.C., you become disconnected from your electorate. I certainly think that’s happened in this case, and that’s one of the reasons we’re running as strong as we are.
NRO: As you travel around the state, do people react more to an explicit ideological argument, that Lugar isn’t conservative enough, or is it more that no matter his politics, he’s been there a long time and it’s time for a change?
MOURDOCK: I hear both sentiments. I’m among the first to note that during the period of the Reagan presidency, Senator Lugar voted more with President Reagan than any other Republican senator. Well, that’s great, but since then he’s also voted for [Supreme Court justices] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, and he was even the only Republican to vote for [President Obama’s deputy-attorney-general nominee] James Cole barely a week ago.
But more than that, it is just the time issue — the second point you raise. I hear it over and over again. Polling shows that among primary voters, Lugar has a 68 percent approval rating; but his hard reelect number — those who are absolutely certain to vote for him — is 31 percent. People respect him, but they no longer feel connected to him, and so they just sense it’s time.
NRO: Obviously, having been in the Senate a long time and being a fairly prominent senator, Richard Lugar is going to have a very large financial advantage heading into this primary. How do you handle the money issue?
MOURDOCK: Certainly we’ll be outspent. But primary races, especially in the last few years, are not so much about money. They’ve been about emotion. He has dollars behind him, and I have a grassroots network that’s fired up and ready to go. I have great tea-party support, and I truly appreciate it, and I know he’s going to try to portray this as a tea-party rebellion. It’s not. The day I announced, three quarters of Indiana’s Republican county chairmen signed on to support my candidacy. Today, we’re announcing that more than half of state Republican committee members have signed on. This isn’t about the Tea Party assaulting the walls of the Republican fortress. This is a rebellion inside the walls. And that, too, is why I feel confident that we’re going to win.
Plus, there are the contacts I’ve made over the years with the Republican organizations in the 92 counties. I never made them with the intent to run for this office. I just did it because I love the party and love the activities. But it’s coming home to me that we’re getting every advantage from that.
NRO: Are there any local issues or controversies going on under the radar that we in Washington might miss? Anything that could end up affecting the race?
MOURDOCK: [laughing] There was until [Gov. Mitch] Daniels made his announcement! Honestly, I think all of us admire the governor so much, that we’re all in a state of depression, if not denial. That was one issue that certainly had the potential to bring some impact to this race, and frankly, it was not going to work to my advantage. Had Governor Daniels run for president, had his name been on the primary ballot in May 2012, it probably would have caused a lot of people who would never [ordinarily] pick up a Republican ballot to do so, and they probably would have been more inclined to vote by name ID and that sort of thing, and they probably would have gone more toward Senator Lugar. But with Governor Daniels stepping away from that, I think whatever benefit there was to that issue for Senator Lugar probably swings my way, with a smaller turnout in the primary.