Election 2012
5:26 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

Uphill Climb For Veteran Lugar In Tuesday Primary

Originally published on Tue May 8, 2012 8:26 am

In Indiana, Republican primary voters Tuesday will decide whether to give GOP Sen. Richard Lugar the opportunity to seek a seventh term in November's general election. A recent independent poll shows him in trouble in his own party, with his Tea Party-backed opponent, Richard Mourdock, in the lead.

Volunteers for Mourdock spent Sunday going door to door dropping off campaign fliers at Republican households. Across town at Lugar campaign headquarters in the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis, volunteers worked the phones. Just since Friday, they've made more than 100,000 calls.

For the Lugar campaign, the hope is to reverse gains made by Mourdock, a two-term state treasurer, to capture undecided voters — and even Democrats and independents who can vote in the primary.

Andy Fisher, Lugar's campaign spokesman, described the strategy as "converting people who had been Mourdock supporters to Lugar supporters. We're also identifying people who have not voted in primaries before that are coming in."

It's impossible to know whether this strategy is working or will make a difference.

Mourdock has been greatly aided by big spending from outside groups including the conservative Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party-affiliated group Freedomworks.

Mourdock is campaigning on the message that Lugar is too moderate, that he's out of touch with Hoosiers and that he has simply been in Washington too long. This was brought into sharp relief in March when Lugar temporarily had his voter registration revoked because he hasn't actually lived in Indiana since the 1970s. He ultimately cleared it up and re-registered from his family's farm.

But for some voters, it seems the damage was done.

"Lugar has been in too long — and how dare he do what he's been doing?" said Di Maher, angry that Lugar moved to a Washington, D.C., suburb after getting elected. She said that's what's driving her vote.

"And [Mourdock] lives here. That is very important, and I know he will be back here," said Maher.

Bill Ward of Carmel, Ind., who with this wife, Emily, has supported Lugar in the past, said: "We have long appreciated Sen. Lugar, but I think we both are very tired of career politicians. Our country was founded based on citizen government."

Emily Ward also said she worried about Lugar's age.

"He's gotten, now that he's 80, very mellow. And it's only going to get more mellow in the next six years," she said.

Lugar has long been known as a moderate Republican, an increasingly rare breed in today's Congress. That's one of the things Lebanon, Ind., resident Jim Lucas likes about him.

"He's a statesman and he's been there the longest," said Lucas. "I am bumfuzzled by all the people that think that we ought to put in new people every election."

Lucas notes that if Republicans were to win back the Senate, Lugar would be in line to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Republican control of the Senate is weighing on Mary Kemper as she prepares to vote. She thinks it's probably time for Lugar to retire, but she's planning to vote for him anyway.

"My main concern is I want a candidate that I feel can beat the Democrat," said Kemper, who said she's worried Mourdock may have a hard time beating the Democratic candidate, Rep. Joe Donnelly, in the general election. This is an idea the Lugar campaign has pushed in recent days.

"Indiana Democrats may have gotten the Republican nominee they really wanted," said Brian Howey, publisher of the nonpartisan Howey Political Report. "I've had sources in the Democratic Party tell me that a great deal of their fall campaign strategy was predicated on Lugar being upset."

Mourdock insists that if he wins Tuesday, he'll instantly have the support of the GOP establishment and all those outside groups who spent so big to back him in the primary.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Now two upcoming primaries that could shakeup state elections. First, Indiana. Tomorrow is a day of reckoning for longtime Republican Senator Dick Lugar. He's running for a seventh term, but a recent poll shows he's in trouble. Senator Lugar is lagging behind another Republican, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is backed by the Tea Party.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports from Indiana.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's get out the vote time in Indiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

KEITH: Volunteers for Richard Mourdock, like Omar Schoffstall, spent Sunday going door-to-door, dropping off campaign flyers at Republican households.

OMAR SCHOFFSTALL: We counted up, we gave out over 400 flyers in just this manner this morning.

KEITH: And now, in 80-plus degree heat in the afternoon, they're at it again. Across town at the Lugar campaign headquarters in the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis, volunteers are working the phones.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, thank you so much. Have a great day. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

KEITH: Every time someone says they're supporting Lugar, the volunteers ring a bell. Just since Friday, they've made more than 100,000 calls, though certainly not all of them are ending in a ding. For the campaign, the hope it to reverse gains made by two-term State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, to capture undecided voters, and even Democrats and independents who can vote in the primary.

Andy Fisher is a campaign spokesman.

ANDY FISCHER: Converting people who had been Mourdock supporters to Lugar supporters. We're also identifying people who have not voted in primaries before that are coming in.

KEITH: It's impossible to know whether this strategy is working or will make a difference. Mourdock has been greatly aided by big spending from outside groups, including Club for Growth, the NRA and FreedomWorks. His message: Lugar is too moderate, that he's out of touch with Hoosiers and has simply been in Washington too long. This was brought into sharp relief in March when Lugar temporarily had his voter registration revoked because he hasn't actually lived in Indiana since the 1970s.

He ultimately cleared it up and re-registered from his family's farm. But talking to voters, it seems the damage was done.

DI MAHER: Lugar has been in too long. And how dare he do what he's been doing?

KEITH: Di Maher is angry that Senator Lugar moved to a Washington, D.C. suburb after getting elected. And that's what's driving her vote. Though, she says she likes some of Mourdock's ideas too.

MAHER: And he lives here. That is very important, and I know he will be back here.

KEITH: Bill and Emily Ward live in Carmel, and have voted for Lugar many times before. But not this time.

BILL WARD: We have long appreciated Senator Lugar. But I think we both are very tired of career politicians. Our country was founded based on citizen government.

KEITH: His wife Emily also says she worries about Lugar's age.

EMILY WARD: He's gotten, now that he's 80, very mellow. And it's only going to get more mellow in the next six years.

KEITH: Lugar has long been known as a moderate Republican, an increasingly rare breed in today's Congress. That's one of the things Lebanon resident Jim Lucas likes about him.

JIM LUCAS: He's a statesman and he's been there the longest. I am bumfuzzled by all the people that think that we ought to put in new people every election.

KEITH: He points to the fact that if Republicans were to win back the Senate, Lugar would be in line to chair the Foreign Relations Committee. Republican control of the Senate is weighing Mary Kemper as she prepares to vote. She thinks it's probably time for Senator Lugar to retire, but she's planning to vote for him anyway.

MARY KEMPER: My main concern is I want a candidate that I feel can beat the Democrat.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEITH: And she's worried Richard Mourdock may have a hard time beating Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly in the general election. This is an idea the Lugar campaign has pushed in recent days. Brian Howey, publisher of the nonpartisan Howey Political Report, says Indiana Democrats may well be getting the Republican nominee they wanted.

BRIAN HOWEY: And I've had sources in the Democratic Party tell me that a great deal of their fall campaign strategy was predicated on Lugar being upset.

KEITH: Mourdock insists that if he wins tomorrow, he'll instantly have the support of the GOP establishment and all those outside groups who spent so big to back him in the primary.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Indianapolis, Indiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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