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GOP senator says Tea Party challenges 'killed off' efforts for Republican majority

Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), facing a primary contest from the right in his reelection bid, said past Tea Party-backed challenges had “killed off” Republican efforts to take the Senate in the past and could undermine a GOP majority again in 2012.

“A Republican majority in the Senate is very important, and Republicans who are running for reelection ought to be supported by people who want to see that majority,” Lugar said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union."

“I think the majority of Tea Party people understand that too,” he added.

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Lugar, who is facing a tough primary challenge from Tea Party-backed Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R), said he was the best GOP option to win the seat and that past attempts by grassroots groups to install candidates they found more conservative had backfired.

"If I was not the nominee it might be lost," he said of his seat. "Republicans lost the seats before in Nevada and New Jersey and Colorado where there were people who were claiming they wanted somebody who was more of their Tea Party aspect, but they killed off the Republican majority."

"This is one of the reasons why we have a minority in the Senate right now," he claimed.

Lugar said that conservative Indiana voters looking for a candidate should look at his record. "I would say to them respectfully that it is me."

"I have a very conservative voting record over the course of the time I've served," he said. 

"Certainly unique, I think, in the Senate, of having been a farmer, a small businessman, a Naval officer, a mayor, a school board member. These are grassroots functions that people are dealing with."

Lugar also denied claims Senate Republicans had undercut the House GOP in the payroll tax cut fight and warned that the protracted fight would make it “very difficult” to find a yearlong tax holiday extension.

Lugar defended the Senate compromise negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) He said McConnell was committed to a year-long extension but that the deadlock necessitated a short-term deal.

“I think that Mitch McConnell offered an avenue, an approach that said 'this is a serious business, we have to talk about a year solution, but this is not likely to be resolved in the next few days,' ” said Lugar. 

He said senators were forced to act to avoid the wide-ranging repercussions if a deal was not struck, saying that wage earners would have seen “the tax holiday go … apart from those who are unemployed on unemployment compensation or the doctors in Medicare.” 

He said the Senate GOP position was “why don’t we, as a matter of fact, talk for a period of time but do so after the 1st of January.”

Lugar sounded a pessimistic note about reaching a deal in the next round of fighting over a yearlong extension.

"I think it will be very difficult. Just as the committee of 12 found it would be very difficult even if the objective was to reduce the deficits, the problems of our balanced payments.”

“We just simply find it’s difficult to do in this context, but not impossible," said Lugar.

Lugar said his provision to fast-track an administration decision on the Keystone XL pipeline helped sell the deal to Senate Republicans. “One factor that led the Senate to come to a conclusion was the Keystone pipeline,” he said.

“At least 20,000 new jobs, six and a half billion-dollar investments from the Canadians and much more oil independence for the United States. A real winner, but President Obama because of environmentalists surrounding the White House apparently literally said we won't do anything until 2013. We said you need to make a decision within 60 days.”

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