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Morning Jay: Why Mourdock Defeated Lugar

6:00 AM, May 11, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Talk about an epic collapse. And I’d note that some polls – like NBC News/Wall Street Journal and CBS News/New York Times – actually find a plurality of respondents arguing that their members do not deserve reelection. A Rasmussen poll released yesterday found a startling 65 percent of Americans angry at the government.

3. Lugar had glaring weaknesses on this front. Lugar had three huge problems that made him seem out of touch in Indiana.

First, he was fairly well to the left of the Indiana GOP congressional delegation on key issues. In 2007 and 2008 his composite conservative score from National Journal averaged 60 percent, compared to 78 percent for Mark Souder, 76 percent for Steve Buyer, 85 percent for Dan Burton, and 89 percent for Mike Pence. 

To some degree, this validates the point that the Times and Klein were making – but it hardly suggests that Indiana Republicans have gone to the radical fringe. As a point of comparison, imagine putting Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson in a state like Washington. As a Democrat, he would be too moderate for the liberals that dominate the party there, and would certainly run exactly the same kind of risk Lugar ran.

Second, he was easily tagged as out of touch. As the Evansville Courier & Press noted:

Lugar's real home is in McLean, Va., where he moved after selling his Indianapolis house in 1977. He stays in hotels when he visits Indiana — a simple, succinct fact Mourdock called the turning point.

After a Marion County election board ruled he needed to change voter registration addresses, Lugar's campaign appealed — adding fuel to the fire, and suffering another couple days' worth of coverage.

Given the widespread sense in America that politicians do not care about the folks at home, this was a terrible mistake.

Third, he was too friendly with Obama. Feelings about President Obama are the most polarized of any leader in the postwar era – Democrats love him and Republicans cannot stand him. Lugar had gone out of his way in the past to praise Obama, and that came back to bite him in the you-know-what.

It’s worth pointing out that if the shoe had been on the other foot – if a moderate Democratic incumbent had once praised a polarizing Republican president – the left would have pounced, and I doubt that liberals like Klein would be writing encomiums to the sensible center.

4. A well-positioned challenger could take him on. I am not talking about some out-of-the-woodwork crazy, like the guy who captured 40 percent of the vote in West Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary, of course. However, a person with a statewide reputation in business and/or politics, capable of raising money and putting together a professional organization, could induce Indiana Republicans to take a good, hard look at Lugar.

Murdock fit that description precisely. He has been in local politics since the 1990s, and had won the job of the state treasurer in 2006, a very good year for Democrats in the Hoosier State. And his April report to the Federal Election Commission showed that he had pulled in nearly $2 million in contributions, something that a politician with decades of experience in Indiana politics should be able to do.

So what’s the bottom line? No doubt ideology played a part in this race, but six-term incumbents without any scandals besmirching their names do not lose 60-40 simply because they are too moderate. Instead, it was a combination of problems that above all made Lugar look out of touch with the values of the Hoosier State, and gave an opening for a top contender like Mourdock to take him on.

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