Inside the Lugar defeat

From journalists to Democrats to Republicans, many in Washington this week lamented the defeat of Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar in his GOP primary election Tuesday night — he is literally the embodiment of a time gone by. Known for his vast record of accomplishments in foreign and domestic policy, particularly in his pioneering work on securing nuclear weapons, Lugar was known for always striking the right tone and working with Democrats. The election wasn't even close. Lugar's opponent, Richard Mourdock, backed by the Tea Party, beat the 80-year-old, six-term incumbent by 20 points.

Though he was warned the Tea Party movement saw a tremendous opportunity to boot him from office, Lugar allowed Mourdock to portray him as an out-of-touch establishment creature who capitulated to Democrats and was no longer effective. Though he watched former Sen. Bob Bennett get taken down in Utah in 2010, and watched his fellow senator Orrin Hatch then move mountains to fend off a Tea Party challenge this year, Lugar seemed not to have seen this one coming.

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Following his concession he issued a lengthy statement following the results that Mourdock should "revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington." He lambasted an increasing number of lawmakers who "have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint." Indeed, the following morning Mourdock went on MSNBC and proclaimed, "I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view. … If we [win the House, Senate, and White House], bipartisanship means they have to come our way, and if we’re successful in getting the numbers, we’ll work toward that."

Sounds like Mourdock may be getting some talking points from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Yet the truth is that Lugar likely could have beaten someone like Mourdock with an aggressive, updated, proactive campaign that showed voters why someone like Lugar, who is accomplished, not extreme, would better represent Indiana. But to do that he had to live there, visit there, engage there and listen there — to the questions, concerns and anger of his constituents now, and not the ones he served way back when. Residency is a requirement for holding office, and so are regular constituent meetings. In reality, Mourdock's Tea Party ties, and the turn rightward of the Republican Party, cannot be credited or blamed for Lugar's loss. In an age of vanishing trust in nearly all institutions in society -— from government to banks to churches to public schools to even professional sports — it was easy to paint a well-respected statesman like Lugar as someone who didn't care enough to work hard for the support of the voters.

In an electorate this volatile, sometimes that's all it takes.


WILL OBAMA'S SUPPORT OF GAY MARRIAGE COST HIM THE ELECTION? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, May 15. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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