The Free Press
Richard Lugar’s loss in the Indiana Republican primary this week came as a bit of a shock to party stalwarts since his opponent, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is a Tea Party candidate who received support from Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
The loss also boosted the confidence of the more conservative wing of the GOP unhappy with Lugar’s willingness to compromise with Democrats.
Predictions followed that the Senate will become increasingly polarized especially after nearly a dozen moderate senators announced their retirement this year.
While Lugar will dispute that he did not put up an effective battle and blamed the Super PACs for pouring funds into Indiana to defeat him, his goose was cooked long before the primary meet.
A close look suggests that Lugar’s defeat was akin to the loss suffered by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar to Republican challenger Chip Cravaack two years ago.
After Oberstar lost, voters afterwards were quoted as saying Oberstar lost touch with people and while he was an effective leader early in his career he lately had his own agenda.
Steven Schier, a Carleton College political science professor, told MPR then Oberstar was “on the political defensive this year.” More telling was one voter who said “I just don’t know if he wanted it enough.”
Such was the case with Lugar. As reported by The Hill, a newspaper specializing in covering Washington politics, “a strong majority of GOP primary voters felt that Lugar had served too long and was too old and should retire,” said Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster who conducted several bipartisan surveys in the state. “Three-fourths of voters supporting Mourdock said their reasons centered around Lugar’s longevity (serving 36 years), age (he is 80), and lack of residency.” Lugar hadn’t lived in the state since 1977.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who would know about tough re-election bids after beating back a primary challenge in 2012, opined a familiar theme in politics. “The moral of the story is: Don’t play defense, play offense,” said McCain “(It’s) one of the most fundamental rules of elections.”
More importantly was the analysis by CNN that found Lugar was vastly out of touch with Indiana Republicans in recent years. He rarely showed up to local GOP events, basking rather in his own image as a globe-trotting elder statesman.
Mourdock, on the other hand, was everywhere. One operative told CNN, “Any (state party) event you go to, there should be a Mourdock name tag printed out because chances are he’s showing up. ... He’s at every chili cook-off imaginable.”
The GOP county chairmen were feeling that Lugar was “too big for us, and he’s too good for us.” And that’s a valuable lesson for any politician. You have to constantly earn re-election; it is not an entitlement, regardless of past performance.