“I think it’s going to be very tight,” says Jack Herendeen, an attendee.
Lugar’s campaign is acting as if it agrees. It’s pummeling Mourdock with negative ads on television and radio and emphasizing Lugar’s electoral advantage. In an earlier Howey/DePauw poll, Mourdock and Democratic candidate, Representative Joe Donnelly, were tied. Lugar, on the other hand, easily trumps Donnelly.
Mourdock’s supporters attribute his relative electoral weakness to his lower name recognition and the fact that he isn’t the presumptive Republican nominee yet. But Lugar is milking this difference for all it’s worth.
“I’ve seen polls that indicate that I would be the strongest Republican against a Democratic opponent in the fall,” he notes to reporters at his headquarters in Fort Wayne the next day. “Please take a look at the whole picture,” he tells the reporters, indirectly addressing skeptical Republicans. “Do you want a Republican senator from Indiana? Do you want a senator who’s effective?”
During his chat with the press, Lugar takes aim at the tea partiers who are opposing him. “I don’t condemn the Tea Party,” he says. “There are certain individuals who really have agendas of their own,” he adds, in a veiled reference to conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, which are backing Mourdock. “They’re trying to prove their clout. . . . And I understand politics is a competitive business.”
And he rejects the idea that he’s compromised on his ideals in an effort to work with Democrats. “As I’ve tried to point out many times, it’s not a question of ‘compromise.’ I try to be convincing,” he argues. “But you’ve got to be in a position to do that.” You’ve got to have seniority, he stresses.
At a meet-and-greet with supporters at the Beef O’Brady restaurant in Peru, Lugar tries to throw into relief the benefits of his seniority. When the Vietnamese foreign minister came to speak with him about China’s threatening presence in the South China Sea, Lugar promised to help him — for something in exchange. He asked the foreign minister to help three Indiana couples who were trying to adopt children from Vietnam. The minister complied, and now the Vietnamese children live in Indiana with their new families.
“After dealing with these world leaders for a long time . . . I know I can be effective,” he says.
At this event, Lugar also takes a swipe at critics of his voting record. Party purists say they won’t get perfect representation this year, but they hope to do so in four or six years’ time, he argues. “What’s going to happen to the country in the meanwhile — while all this purity is being worked out?” he asks.
His supporters agree. “We want people who are going to govern, not just say no to everything,” says Janet Corwin, a Republican activist at the restaurant.
But Lugar’s campaign knows it will take more than persuasion to claim victory. As of Sunday, his campaign and volunteers had made more than 1.4 million get-out-the-vote phone calls since the start of the campaign. Because Indiana is an open primary and Lugar isn’t particularly popular among Republican activists these days, his campaign is targeting independent and Democratic voters as well.
He’ll need them, and he knows it. At the event in Peru, when his host, Mayor Jim Walker, asked the attendees if they had any questions for the senator, they initially sat there in silence. Walker broke the awkward pause with the joke, “You’re doing everything right.”
Chuckling, Lugar replied, “I’m not certain of that.”
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.