Lugar not too worried about a possible Tea Party challenge emerging in 2012


While most of his GOP colleagues are heeding the advice of their Senate campaign chiefs and preparing for conservative primary challengers, Lugar is bucking his party on several high-profile issues.

Last week, he split with Senate Republicans, rejecting a voluntary, two-year ban on congressional earmarks.

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He posed for pictures with Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 Left-leaning journalist: Sanders would be 'formidable candidate' against Trump Clinton hits EPA for approval of pesticide dump: ‘We need bees!’ MORE and Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents MORE (D-Mass.) as part of a photo-op on the START arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which is expected to come up for a vote next month. Lugar, in contrast to most of his GOP colleagues, supports the treaty.

He’s also said he would vote to take up the defense authorization bill, which contains a repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, as long as Democrats allow a fair amendment process.

And he’s one of nine Republican senators who did not sign onto a legal brief challenging the healthcare reform law. Aside from Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), Lugar is the only Republican up for reelection in 2012 who didn’t lend his name.

In an interview with The Hill, Lugar said he is well-aware of his differences with other Republicans, but denied the party has become too conservative for him or that he is considering retirement.

“These are just areas where I’ve had stances for a long time,” Lugar said. “I didn’t adopt them to be contrary. I think what’s occurring is, the Democrats are trying to get passage for things in the last stages of their majority, so a number of these issues have arisen because of that. I have no other explanation.”

In a political atmosphere that has seen successful Tea Party primary challenges to incumbent GOP senators such as Bob Bennett of Utah and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report — Emergency declaration to test GOP loyalty to Trump Don’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration MORE of Alaska, some analysts say Lugar’s independent streak could spell trouble.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, says Republican centrists such as Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy MORE (Tenn.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lugar will be probable targets.

“If I was Dick Lugar, I would certainly expect a challenge,” he said. “Any Republican up in 2012 shouldn’t discount the possibility of a Tea Party challenge. Those voters have proven they are interested in forcing a certain discipline in the party, and anybody who veers away from that shouldn’t be surprised.”

But Lugar has several reasons to be confident. He recently released an internal poll that showed him as the most popular Republican in Indiana, and he has some $2.4 million in the bank.

Also, he saw Republican Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsDNC unveils new security checklist to protect campaigns from cyberattacks Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall Is Putin attacking Sanders, Harris and Warren to help Trump? MORE beat Tea Party favorites Marlin Stutzman and banker Don Bates Jr. in the 2010 Indiana GOP Senate primary. Coats went on to win the general election.

And Lugar hasn’t faced a tough election since 1982.

But Tea Party groups are already batting around names for the 2012 primary, including Bates, conservative state Sen. Mike Delph and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Another one to watch is Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose term expires in 2012. He’s a Tea Party favorite, though there has been speculation Daniels will make a presidential bid.

Lugar, 78, a native of Indianapolis, has already announced plans to seek reelection. He has served in the Senate since 1977, after eight years as Indianapolis mayor, and has twice chaired the Senate’s Agriculture and Foreign Relations committees. A frequent overseas traveler, he is widely respected in the GOP conference for his views on foreign policy, which Democrats are using to try to persuade other Republicans to support the START Treaty.
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Lugar’s independent streak is well-known — a friend of the president’s, he voted for Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. He also co-sponsored the DREAM Act with Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run MORE (D-Ill.), to provide a path to legal residency for children of illegal immigrants.

Citing that background, Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor and Senate analyst for The Cook Political Report, said Lugar is simply being himself. Like Rothenberg, she expects he will draw a primary challenge.

“His vote ratings on defense and foreign policy have always been a little more moderate,” Duffy said. “He’s also been very clear on his position on Supreme Court nominees — as long as they are qualified, then he would support them. These long-held views are very likely to earn Lugar a primary in 2012. But he remains popular and would be favored to win the nomination. This is not to say that he won’t have a lot of work to do to avoid suffering the fates of Sens. Bennett and Murkowski.”

Shane D’Aprile contributed to this article.