Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is fighting for survival in his contentious Republican primary with state treasurer Richard Mourdock, a conservative with broad Tea Party support. Speaking with reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, Lugar seemed to be unsure about whether or not the Tea Party has been a force for good in the GOP.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Do you think the movement has been a positive for the Republican party?
LUGAR: I’ll wait until—[pause]
TWS: Until you’ve won your primary?
LUGAR: Until I see how things are going.
Things are mixed for the 6-term incumbent senator, who was actually outraised by Mourdock in the first quarter of 2012 (Lugar, however, maintains a financial advantage overall). A recent Mourdock campaign poll shows Mourdock edging out Lugar, 42 percent to 41 percent, though independent polling has been infrequent and usually shows Lugar leading.
Lugar is confident. He predicts he will win the May 8 primary. “I’m not looking at myself as a casualty,” Lugar said. “The word survivor’s the correct word. [We’re] quite healthy, and I believe we’re going to win in two weeks.”
But Lugar has been savaged by the Mourdock campaign and its surrogates, like the Club for Growth and the National Rifle Association, for being too moderate, too close with Democrats, and too much a part of the Washington establishment. Several Tea Party groups in Indiana have supported the challenge to Lugar, who they say allowed spending to grow out of control in Congress.
Mourdock released a radio ad yesterday knocking Indiana’s senior senator for being in Washington for nearly 36 years, a reason, Mourdock has said, Lugar is out of touch with Hoosiers. Lugar, for his part, says he’s simply doing the work of the people of Indiana.
“I would just say that I’m very active in the Senate,” Lugar said. “I’m voting today, maybe a good many times, on issues that are important to the country. We’re actually now talking about jobs and about the budget, which are the big issues in Indiana and elsewhere in the Republican primary. Actually doing something about it. Actually having worked with others to affect change, and we’ll continue to do so with a great deal of energy and, I believe, modesty, a certain degree of expertise, and achievement.”
Lugar also disputed the argument that he’s not conservative enough for Indiana Republicans, pointing to his 100 percent ratings in recent years from the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “[Mourdock is] confused who’s conservative, who understands business, jobs, actually understands the economy, as opposed to some ethereal version conjured up by somebody who has virtually no experience in administration, legislation, or any of the issues we’re now talking about,” Lugar said.
The Lugar camp has fought back against Mourdock with ads of its own, one set in particular charging that Mourdock received illegal homestead deductions on his Indiana house. Mourdock has said the deductions were an honest error left over from the home’s previous owner and that he has paid the appropriate back taxes.
“He evaded taxes for three years,” Lugar said. “Pretty straightforward.”
Nevertheless, Lugar said that regardless of the outcome of his own primary, he would support the Republican ticket in Indiana in the general election. “I always have.”
Lugar joins fellow veteran senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who was sworn into the Senate on the same day in 1977, in facing a challenger from the right in their respective primaries. Asked about Hatch’s fate after the Utahn failed to earn the state GOP’s endorsement at its convention on Saturday, Lugar said he was optimistic for his friend and colleague. “Orrin worked very hard,” he said. “I sat next to him today at lunch and told him my adoration for a very strenuous but constructive efforts he made.”