Gov. Daniels endorses GOP Sen. Lugar, a big Tea Party target

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels on Sunday called embattled Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) a role model and pledged to support Lugar’s re-election despite Tea-Party opposition.

The endorsement of Lugar could further inflame conservative activists grumbling over Daniels’s call for a political truce on social issues and complicate a potential White House bid.

“I’m for Dick Lugar, he’s the role model I’ve had,” Daniels said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”. “Folks in Indiana know that I am for him and that I admire him and think if he wants another term he ought to have one.”

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Lugar, the most senior member of the Senate Republican conference, is running for a seventh term against Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has Tea-Party backing.

Daniels served as Lugar’s chief of staff and later under him as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Lugar on Thursday announced he would support Daniels for president, if he chose to run.

Indiana’s most prominent representatives in Washington, Sen. Dan Coats (R) and Rep. Mike Pence (R) have pledged to stay neutral in the Lugar-Mourdock race.

Tensions have grown between Lugar and conservative activists in Indiana over the years.

Tea Party voters were dismayed late last year by Lugar’s staunch support for Senate confirmation of the New START nuclear treaty, which gave President Obama an important political victory.

Lugar was also critical of spending cuts in the House-passed spending measure that chopped $61 billion from the federal budget.

Lugar questioned the wisdom of cutting funds for the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children but ultimately voted for the House plan last week. Lugar told The Hill last week that he would have preferred the spending proposal be cut even more from the 2011 budget.

Daniels himself has run afoul of some conservative activists for suggesting a truce on social issues. 

“Someone suggested we call a truce on social and moral issues,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, at a gathering of activists in Iowa last week. “I seem to remember Ronald Reagan fighting and winning the Cold War at the very time that he was restoring values and growing the economy.

“I don’t know about you but I’d like to have a leader that can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

Daniels defended his comments.

“We’re going to have to make changes, at least moving forward, that will permit us to maintain a growing economy and the American dream of upward mobility for folks at the bottom and we’re going to have to get together people who disagree on other things, that’s all I’ve said,” Daniels said.