In March, the Marion County Election Board declared Senator Dick Lugar ineligible to vote in Indiana, the state he’s represented in Congress since 1977. Lugar sold his home in Indianapolis decades ago, and he currently resides in McLean, Va. True, the board’s vote was along partisan lines, with the two Democrats voting against the one Republican. But Republican activists say they’ve hardly seen Lugar since his first election 36 years ago.
“I have never met Dick Lugar, and I have been to more Lincoln Day dinners, GOP events, and tea-party rallies than can be counted,” writes Dee Dee Benkie, Republican national committeewoman for Indiana, in an e-mail to National Review Online.
“Lugar has hardly ever appeared at any county Lincoln Day dinners,” adds Jim Bopp, Republican national committeeman for Indiana. “And he almost never even appears at Indiana GOP state dinners or our state conventions.” Like Benkie, Bopp is supporting state treasurer Richard Mourdock in the primary.
Sam Frain, chairman of the 2nd Congressional District GOP in Indiana, says the last face time he had with Lugar was in 1976. As a teenager, he walked in a parade with the then-candidate, “and essentially, that is the last time I had with Senator Lugar,” he says. The last time he saw Lugar, moreover, was at Governor Mitch Daniels’s inauguration. (Daniels is a former staffer of Lugar’s; Frain, meanwhile, is backing Mourdock in the primary.)
By contrast, many Republican activists have been impressed by Mourdock’s availability. For instance, Phillip Stoller, vice chairman of the 3rd Congressional District GOP, remembers chatting with Mourdock one-on-one for 30 minutes on Congressman Mike Pence’s campaign bus.
Yet Lugar has his defenders. “I’ve met him many times going back to college in the ’90s,” writes Mike O’Brien, chairman of the Hendricks County GOP, in an e-mail to NRO. “I had a class assignment to interview an elected official. Rather than select the local officials like most of my classmates, I sent a request to Senator Lugar and he accepted it.”
“To suggest he’s some distant, obtuse elected official is a total fabrication that fits the narrative of this primary for his opponents,” O’Brien adds. “I’m not of the class of county chairman who expects to see my United States Senator at my ham-and-bean supper. We hire these guys to go represent us in Washington, D.C., and then we’re shocked when they actually spend more time in Washington, D.C., when they’re elected than when they were campaigning to go.”
Frain disagrees. “When we elect representatives to Washington, I think there is a certain expectation that they stay engaged and involved in Indiana,” he argues. “How else are they going to know the needs and wants of Hoosier citizens if they’re not involved?”