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Campaign Spotlight: A Threatened Senator In Indiana

Campaign Spotlight: A Threatened Senator In Indiana

For the most senior Republican in the U.S. Senate, it's the most unlikely of situations.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a senator since January 1977 and a native and former mayor of his state's capital city of Indianapolis, is facing a serious re-election challenge - from within his own party.

In the most recent poll, Lugar is only seven points ahead of challenger Richard Mourdock, the conservative state treasurer who has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express.

The March 26-28 poll, by Howey-DePauw, sampled 503 likely voters and found Lugar at 42 percent and Mourdock at 35 percent. While the spread is outside the poll's margin of error, it is an uncomfortable reminder that Lugar is within reach of his challenger.

Lugar's problem: He has crossed the aisle many times over his 35-year Senate career, on both domestic and foreign issues, angering many hardcore conservatives.

It could be another example of the Tea Party's political muscle.

In the 2010 Senate GOP primaries, Tea Party-backed candidates ousted several GOP senators in favor of more conservative choices, such as the situation in Utah, where incumbent Robert Bennett lost to now-Sen. Mike Lee. But in other states the strategy backfired, such as in Delaware and Nevada.

The Indiana election could also play a role in deciding control of the Senate. Democrats have 23 seats up for election, while Republicans have only 10, meaning there is a real possibility that the GOP could wrest control of the chamber if they win enough seats.

Lugar hasn't faced a challenging re-election since 1982, when he won with 54 percent of the vote. Since then, he has never won with less than 67 percent. He was re-elected most recently with 87 percent of the vote in 2006.

Mourdock, by contrast, lost two bids for a House seat in the 1990s, never receiving more than 45 percent of the vote. He won his treasurer position narrowly, with 52 percent of the vote in 2006, and won a more comfortable re-election in 2010 by 62 percent.

Lugar is considered one of the most respected members of the Senate. As the ranking member of the chamber's Foreign Relations Committee, colleagues from both parties say he is a critical go-to voice on foreign policy.

An example would be the START arms-control treaty, which was imperiled for months in 2010 because of GOP opposition. The treaty was only ratified that December after Lugar talked several other Republicans into supporting it.

Although a Washington Post voting database says Lugar votes with his party 90 percent of the time, he has split with the GOP on prominent issues such as earmarks, a defense authorization bill which contained a repeal of the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy and a legal brief challenging President Barack Obama's controversial health care law.

He also voted for Obama's two Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, and co-sponsored the DREAM Act, a top Democratic priority which would provide a path to legal residency for children of illegal immigrants.

Lugar has said he is well-aware of his differences with other Republicans, but he has denied that the party has become too conservative for him.

"These are just areas where I've had stances for a long time," Lugar has said. "I didn't adopt them to be contrary."

Lugar, who turned 80 years old this month, can comfortably point to polls that show he would easily win re-election - and keep his seat in Republican hands - in the general election.

The same polling firm that found him threatened by Mourdock also recently polled a similar group of respondents at the same time, and found Lugar with a whopping 21-point lead in a general election. Matched against Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly, Lugar stands at 50 percent to 29 percent for Donnelly.

Lugar also saw Republican Sen. Dan Coats 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.

For his part, Mourdock has been critical of Lugar's independent voting streak as well as Lugar's frequent foreign travels as the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

"Hoosiers want more than a globe-trotting Senator, they want a Senator who routinely holds town hall meetings not to talk but to listen," Mourdock said at his February 2011 candidacy announcement.

He added, "They want a Senator who will walk the parade routes, visit the county fairs and festivals, and who will eat pork tenderloin and an ear of corn. They told me over and over again that they want a Senator who comes back home."

At the time, Mourdock was armed with a poll by Wilson Research Strategies that showed 65 percent of GOP primary voters were considering replacing Lugar, largely because of his voting record.

He has also since received endorsements from some of the most conservative groups in the country, including the Tea Party Express, Freedom Works, Citizens United and the Club for Growth.

Meanwhile, the critical edge in fund-raising goes to Lugar. According to Federal Election Commission records, Lugar has $4 million in the bank, compared to $363,000 for Mourdock and $847,000 for Donnelly.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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