Dick Lugar Fights for His Political Life
The 36-year incumbent makes the case for seniority.

Senator Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) participates in a GOP primary debate in Indianapolis, April 11, 2012


Indianapolis, Ind. — “Dick Lugar’s not been up in this area for a long time,” says Diane Miller. A Republican from Albion, Ind., Miller is running for local office, as is half the audience, it seems, at the Noble County GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner. Sitting in the back of the dining room at the Cobblestone Golf Club, Miller admits, “I’m surprised to see him here.”

Amid the bumper stickers and the yard signs and the roasted chicken and the baked potatoes, the dignified presence of Indiana’s senior senator, who rarely attended political events in the past, almost seems jarring. Miller notices the discrepancy: “I’m surprised he stayed [for the whole dinner],” she says, with a hearty laugh.

But this is no laughing matter for the 36-year incumbent. His challenger, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, leads him 48 to 38 in a recent Howey/DePauw poll despite the fact that Lugar has won reelection easily since 1976. In the closing days of the campaign, Lugar is emphasizing his long tenure and the political efficacy he says that goes with it.

At the dinner, Lugar makes his case in front of the 60 or so attendees. It consists of three strands: One, he’s cast a lot of votes — a lot of votes against President Obama. “I voted 42 times against every vestige of Obamacare,” he tells the crowd, referring to the endless procedural votes in the Senate. And Republican delaying tactics forced the Democrats to engage in 30 hours of debate on the legislation, another unsung contribution to the conservative cause, he argues.

Two, he knows farming, an important industry in the Hoosier State. He mentions the 604-acre corn, soybean, and tree farm in Marion County, of which he is an owner. And he singles out for praise Representative Marlin Stutzman, who is also in attendance. “Marlin is my partner in the farm bill.”

Lugar takes this opportunity to burnish his fiscal-conservative bona fides. Working with Stutzman, Lugar introduced a farm bill that would have cut $40 billion in federal spending by simplifying the subsidy schedule. After going through the Senate Agriculture Committee, the bill now cuts only $26 billion, but he stresses that at least he got that much done.

Three, he talks up his efforts in behalf of nuclear disarmament. He tells the story of the Nunn-Lugar program and then notes, “At a time of instability in the Russian government, we had better be very active.” In other words, don’t change horses midstream.

“These are serious issues,” Lugar says in conclusion. “I would like the opportunity to continue working on them. I believe I need to be — for the sake of our country.” As he walks back to his seat, the crowd gives him a standing ovation. Unfortunately for Lugar, his challenger, Mourdock, also gets a standing ovation that night.