Dick Lugar Victim of Dick Lugar, Not Tea Party

In “Why Dick Lugar lost,” Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake argue persuasively that the Tea Party was not the primary factor in the loss of the six-term senator.

At its heart, Lugar’s defeat was attributable to the fact that he broke the political golden rule: Never lose touch with the people who elected you.

“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, age, and lack of residency.”

Matthews added that less than one in five voters in her last poll were supporting Mourdock for what she described as “tea party talking points” including Lugar’s vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court or his support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout.

Look at Marion County, which includes the city of Indianapolis (where Lugar was mayor in the 1970s) and is the center of establishment Republicanism in the state. Lugar only won the county by eight points — not even close to the margin he would have needed to offset Mourdock’s margins in the rest of the state.

Lugar’s campaign did nothing to help him and, in fact, reinforced the fact that he had fallen badly out of touch with Republican voters in his state.

Rather than heed the advice of national campaign professionals, who told Lugar he needed to professionalize his campaign operation, the incumbent went in the opposite direction — parting ways with respected pollster Linda DiVall and surrounding himself with Senate loyalists who knew far more about cloture than campaigns.

Lugar convinced himself that the way he was regarded in Washington — as a senior statesman — was the way he was regarded in Indiana. He cavalierly dismissed the seriousness of Mourdock’s challenge and didn’t seem to grasp the danger inherent in the extended public debate over whether or not he was even a resident of the state. He did little to counter the idea that, at 80, his time to retire had come.

I’m not a fan of the Tea Party movement or the hyperpartisan atmosphere that has surrounded American politics in recent years. And I have a lot of respect for Dick Lugar, especially for his foreign policy seriousness. After nearly four decades in Washington and at 80 years old, it was likely time for him to retire and get some fresh blood into the Senate.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Even before the polls were closed yesterday there were reports from Indiana showing interviews with voters most of whom said they were voting against Lugar because he’d lost touch with the state. One elderly Indianapolis resident said he’d voted for Dick Lugar in every election he’d run in, until this one. Heck, a good part of the leadership of the Indiana GOP was opposing Lugar this time around, his only real big name support came from Mitch Daniels who had been a Lugar staffer and political protege back in the day.

    This wasn’t the Tea Party, this was a guy who lost touch with his voters. Orrin Hatch realized early on the potential threat he faced this year and acted quickly to deal with it. He’ll likely win the GOP primary in Utah in June. Lugar seemed to not only not realize the threat he faced but to be openly antagonistic to the people who were critical of him, and he paid the price.

    (Also for anyone wondering, Lugar cannot run as an independent or write-in candidate because of Indiana’s “sore loser” law)

  2. Arrogant, sore loser. If Lugar had squeaked this one out, maybe the Dem nominee would have won on the residency issue. Indiana has some history in booting Senators it has tired of (and to Dan Quayle, no less):


  3. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    This wasn’t the Tea Party, this was a guy who lost touch with his voters.

    I think you and James have this partly right. Lugar had his 36 year run, he had lost touch with Indiana and Hoosier Republicans were ready for some new blood.

    But, there is no denying that the new blood they’ve chosen is a Tea Party guy. Though Mourdock’s win has likely increased the chances for the Democrats to win this seat, there is still a very good possibility that Mourdock will be the next Senator from the great state of Indiana. The state and the country will get another big dose of hyper-partisanship. That Indiana Republicans didn’t really want that will be immaterial.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Senator Lugar was from another time and place. He had a long run and frankly he’s a centrist Republican in a state where most Republicans are very conservative. His time was up.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    The most interesting question is whether will ever set foot in Indiana again. I would guess that Indiana has seen the last of Lugar until his funeral.

    I have always believe that politicians should not be able to collect their pension unless they spend more than 50% of their time living in the state of district that they represented. Maybe then politicians would spend more time worrying about the economic condition of their districts

  6. Moosebreath says:

    James, thanks for putting this up.