Updated 9:06 p.m. | Sen. Dick Lugar was defeated in a blowout in Indiana’s Republican primary on Tuesday, capping a 36-year Congressional career punctuated by foreign affairs accomplishments and potentially putting the Senate seat in play for Democrats.
State Treasurer Richard Mourdock led 61 percent to 39 percent, with 40 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race around 7:49 p.m., less than an hour after all polls in the state closed.
“I don’t think you can find one factor” for his defeat, former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said. “He traveled the globe and was a leader in foreign affairs, but he grew more estranged from the conservative base in Indiana.”
Early on in the 2012 cycle, political prognosticators predicted Lugar’s vulnerabilities in a GOP primary. He had a record of supporting bipartisan initiatives unpopular with conservative voters, such as co-sponsoring immigration reform in the last Congress and voting for both of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.
Although Lugar’s vulnerabilities were obvious, it seemed like he might squeak out a victory in part because of his massive cash advantage in the race. But in early 2012, conservative groups started infusing money into the race to support Mourdock’s feeble fundraising and Lugar came under attack for his lack of residency in the Hoosier State.
In the last month of the race, public polls showed Lugar in a free fall, down 17 points in six weeks. And throughout all of this, Lugar’s operation struggled to define Mourdock with a coherent message.
“It’s unfortunate. Lugar was a Senator’s Senator,” said Davis, a political moderate who retired in 2008. “He was respected on both sides. People listened to what he was saying.”
Democrats believe Lugar’s loss means that Rep. Joe Donnelly could have a shot at picking up the Senate seat this November.
Anticipating a Lugar loss, national Democrats sought to start painting Mourdock as an extremist early on Tuesday afternoon — before the ballots were even counted. In a memo sent to media, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declared Mourdock “a Tea Party candidate who is too far out of the mainstream for independent voters.”
Mourdock enjoyed support from tea party organizations during the primary, but he’s a well-known entity in Hoosier Republican circles. He’s held local office for most of the past two decades and won re-election to his current office overwhelmingly in 2010.
Updated 9:06 p.m.
When Lugar addressed supporters at his campaign headquarters, his concession speech struck a bipartisan and positive tone.
But in a statement released to the media afterwards, Lugar sang a different tune by blasting Mourdock for his political approach.
“In effect, what [Mourdock] has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party,” Lugar said in a statement released to the Evansville Courier and Press. “His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.”