Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana lost his party’s nomination tonight because he had lost touch with the party’s grassroots.
Since his election to the Senate in 1976, Lugar had cut a profile as a moderate Republican: He had supported the ethanol mandate, backed the Brady Bill, and opposed the Iraq surge. In previous cycles, Republicans had forgiven Lugar his ideological transgressions, but in recent years, he had become more brazen. Not only did Lugar support the DREAM Act; he cosponsored it. Not only did he vote for New START, he spoke forcefully in its favor. True, Lugar wasn’t Arlen Specter — he opposed the stimulus and Obamacare — but his voting record was moderate enough to make him suspect.
And a combination of a poorly run campaign, a credible opponent, and a small, energized electorate sealed his fate.
1. Lugar ran a nasty and ineffective campaign.
Senator Orrin Hatch faces many of the same challenges Lugar did, yet he’s in a stronger position going into Utah’s primary. Why? Because Hatch has recognized the threat to his candidacy and tried to meet it with full force. Lugar seemingly ignored the Tea Party — even insulted it, at times.
He should have known better. On the campaign trail, Lugar said he knew he would face a challenge as early as October 2010. That month, a group of tea partiers confronted Lugar and warned him he was their next target. They were angry that Dan Coats, who had previously served in the Senate and retired, had captured the Senate nomination because conservatives were divided among a number of candidates in the primary. Next time, they vowed, they would be united.
Although Lugar raised over $4 million for his campaign, he didn’t hit the campaign trail until the fall of 2011. His opponent, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, however, announced his candidacy in February 2011. Lugar met some success in courting conservatives: Leaders of the Hamilton County Tea Party, for instance, decided to back him after hearing him out. But Lugar’s reappearance on the campaign trail also reminded the rank and file that they hadn’t seen him at their Lincoln Day Dinners and their party conventions for decades.
And Lugar wasn’t the most effective speaker, either. When he took the stump, he made a reasonable argument — that, with his seniority, he was an effective advocate for his state’s interests — and he illustrated it with three points: He voted against Obamacare, he wrote a farm bill that would cut $40 billion, and his efforts on behalf of nuclear disarmament were important. Unfortunately, his message was out of tune with the times. And, accustomed to speaking with other pols, Lugar littered his speeches with Washington anecdotes — what Harry Reid had said to him the other day, or how Republicans had delayed Democratic bills with hours of debate. These anecdotes only reinforced Lugar’s image as an out-of-touch politician.
It also didn’t help that he had once told his more conservative opponents on New START to “get real.”