Dick Lugar, the six-term Republican Senator from Indiana, is locked in the fight of his political life, fending off a vigorous challenge from conservative groups angry at his cooperation with President Obama. And just as they did in Nevada, Colorado, and Delaware in 2010, those groups risk losing a Senate seat for their Republican Party in the name of ideological purity.
Having not faced a primary fight since 1976, Lugar is gearing up for a slugfest over the next few weeks with his challenger, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. But with a healthy bank account and all the other advantages of incumbency, Lugar’s far more concerned about the fiscally conservative Club For Growth and National Rifle Association pounding him with negative TV ads.
“Some things shouldn’t change,” begins an NRA spot airing statewide on broadcast and cable stations. “But over his 36 years in Washington, Dick Lugar has changed. He’s become the only Republican candidate in Indiana with an “F” rating from the NRA.”
A Howey Politics/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll conducted March 26-28 found Lugar ahead in the primary by five points, 42 to 35 percent. But while the same poll showed Lugar crushing the Democratic candidate, Congressman Joe Donnelly, by a huge margin, Mourdock broke dead even with him at 35 percent.
The race, then, could prove another instance of the Club for Growth and Tea Party overreaching, choosing a candidate beloved by hardcore Republicans but despised by the broad center of the electorate. In 2010, they backed Sharron Angle in Nevada, who went on to lose to the unpopular incumbent, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, because he portrayed her as outside the mainstream. Likewise, Tea Party-backed Ken Buck in Colorado and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware were weak candidates in what might have been fertile territory for Republican gains.