Lugar Loss a Notch in Dick Armey's Belt: 6-Term Senator Loses Primary to Tea Party Guy
It's not often that a six-term U.S. senator gets defeated -- especially in a primary. But that's exactly what happened tonight to Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the state's longest-serving senator. Lugar's crime? Siding with President Barack Obama here and there -- voting to approve the president's Supreme Court nominees, for the Democrats' bank bailout plan and (horrors) being a fan of earmarks.
In their relentless push to move the GOP to the right, leaders of the Club for Growth and the Tea Party-allied FreedomWorks bankrolled and backed up Lugar's primary challenger, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has failed twice in congressional bids. For his part, Lugar ran a pretty clueless campaign, and got into trouble when it was revealed that he no longer owned a house in Indiana. (After all, once you've cemented your reputation as a Washington insider, why would you need one?)
Initially, Lugar sought to beat back Mourdock with a negative ad campaign. That's when the Club for Growth came riding to Mourdock's rescue with a $1.4 million ad buy, according to Politico. The ads portrayed Lugar as "a pawn of Obama," reports Politico's David Catanese. (Not that team Lugar didn't throw around a lot of dough. That negative ad campaign cost him a cool $2.4 million.)
Then FreedomWorks, chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, threw in $580,000, but more important, put boots on the grown in Mourdock's get-out-the-vote effort. From Catanese's report:
But the group's real value was amassing ground forces. In total, FreedomWorks members and volunteers logged 400,000 calls, knocked on 125,000 doors and planted more than 20,000 pro-Mourdock yard signs.
FreedomWorks has had a Senate strategy for the last two years, the idea being to build a "power center" around Sen. Jim DeMint, S.C., the de facto head of the deliberative body's Tea Party cabal. As DeMint has proven, in the Senate, the Tea Party crowd doesn't need a majority to succeed. They need just enough senators to gum up the works, which Senate rules make it quite easily to do.
UPDATE: I just got an e-mail blast from Dick Armey who wants you to know:
This huge win represents a critical moment for the Tea Party movement, as we look to retake the Senate and FIRE Harry Reid as Majority Leader. I’ve reopened our retake the Senate fundraising drive because we HAVE to help Mourdock beat the Democrat and send him to join strong conservatives like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Jim DeMint in the Senate!
UPDATE: After his concession speech, Lugar issued an extraordinary statement, making the case for bipartisanship, and explaining the way in which "outside groups" are altering the function of the Senate. Here's an excerpt:
I knew that I would face an extremely strong anti-incumbent mood following a recession. I knew that my work with then-Senator Barack Obama would be used against me, even if our relationship were overhyped. I also knew from the races in 2010 that I was a likely target of Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and other Super Pacs dedicated to defeating at least one Republican as a purification exercise to enhance their influence over other Republican legislators. [Emphasis added.]
Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times. Certainly this was understood by President Reagan, who worked with Democrats frequently and showed flexibility that would be ridiculed today – from assenting to tax increases in the 1983 Social Security fix, to compromising on landmark tax reform legislation in 1986, to advancing arms control agreements in his second term.
Lugar's defeat at the hands of FreedomWorks and its friends is playing out exactly per the playbook issued in 2009 by the Tea Party's astroturf leaders, which I outlined in a 2010 long-form piece, Tea Party Inc.