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?”
“I’ve met Senator Lugar many times,” adds Kyle Walker, chairman of the Marion County GOP. “He has been very active and accessible to our grassroots folks throughout his campaign.” Like O’Brien, Walker is supporting Lugar in the primary.
And Lugar has stepped up his outreach efforts to the grassroots in recent months. By meeting with them privately and answering their questions, Lugar won over tea partiers Chuck Ford and Don Bauder, who previously planned to support Mourdock. And this week, Lugar is attending a civics event Ford is holding for high-school students.
Still, complaints about Lugar abound. Jared Bond, a 26-year-old Republican activist, notes, “I have been involved in politics for the last twelve years. . . . Prior to September 2011, I had met or seen Senator Lugar on three occasions. Since September 2011, I have been at eight different events where Senator Lugar has been present. Even in 2006, when I served as Senator Lugar’s campus coordinator at Purdue University, I never had the opportunity to meet him.”
One longtime state activist, Rich Bramer, also general counsel to Mourdock’s campaign, writes to NRO: “Until this year, Senator Lugar had not been to my home [Sullivan] county in Indiana since 1999 for any event, political or non-political. . . . Senator Lugar was a constant presence in Indiana in the 1970s and 1980s. . . . His absence from the state first became noticeable to party activists in the mid 1990s and has been very noticeable in the 2000s.”
And Scott Fluhr, chairman of the Harrison County GOP, writes, “Until this past October when he did an event in Corydon, that was the only time I had ever met him. I’d guess that almost everyone present at that event had either never met him or hadn’t seen him in at least a decade and a half.”
But Fluhr also remembers meeting Lugar once before: In middle school, Fluhr won a statewide geography bee and spent half an hour talking with the senior senator when he went to D.C. for the national competition.
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review Online.