By Samm Quinn
Treasurer Richard Mourdock has defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar, ending a distinguished, 36-year career that earned the Republican accolades nationally and internationally but led to questions about whether he was out of touch with Hoosiers.
Mourdock had a 20-point-lead in the GOP Senate primary with a third of the vote counted, which led The Associated Press to call the race just one hour after the polls closed in the state's Central time zone.
The outcome was all but unthinkable a year ago. Mourdock was a little known state official who'd made his name primarily by suing the administration of President Barack Obama over the auto bailout and Lugar was an Indiana political icon once named by Time magazine as a Top 10 senator.
On Tuesday night, standing before hundreds of emotional supporters wearing red campaign t-shirts, Mourdock was quick to publically thank Lugar for his service. That's praise he promised he'd give Lugar when he started the campaign.
"When I began this campaign Sen. Lugar was not my enemy," Mourdock said. "He is not now my enemy. He will never be enemy. He was simply, over the last 15 months, my opponent.
"This race is not about animosity; it's about ideas," he said. "It's about the direction of the Republican Party. It's about the direction of our country."
With the theme from the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire playing and his supporters cheering and crying, the incumbent senator emerged for his concession speech. Lugar gave his wife a kiss said Indiana voters had spoken.
"Serving the people of Indiana has been the greatest honor of my public life," Lugar said. "I am proud of the solutions we have brought to problems over the years and the initiatives we have undertaken to build Indiana and to protect our country."
Lugar said he would spend the last eight months of his term working toward a federal farm bill that will "save taxpayers billions and give farmers a chance to prosper."
Then, he said he will move on to "new opportunities to serve Indiana and serve my nation."
On Tuesday night, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller credited local party officials with helping Mourdock claim the unlikely victory. More than two-thirds of Republican county chairmen stood with Mourdock when he announced he'd challenge Lugar.
"I think a lot of people have taken the local party organizations for granted over the years," Zoeller said. Mourdock "got a lot of support from the people who he's been traveling to meet and visit with and a lot of those county organizations supported him from the very beginning."
Lugar will likely be remembered most for the Nunn-Lugar Act, a program he passed with then-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., that has dismantled thousands of unsecure nuclear warheads and chemical and biological weapons.
He and Nunn have repeatedly been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
In Indiana, his legacy will likely be a move he made as mayor of Indianapolis that unified the city and county and is credited with strengthening local government as other big cities faltered. It also brought thousands of GOP voters into the city, securing Republican leadership for years until many of those voters migrated to ring counties and Democrats gained more power.
But Lugar's campaign – out of practice after years without a strong opponent – seemed unable this spring to translate Lugar's accomplishments and reputation into a cohesive message that could effectively combat criticism that he was too old and too out of touch to keep the job.
Outside groups branded Lugar too liberal and pointed to votes for President Barack Obama's nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court and an auto bailout bill as evidence that he was not conservative enough to represent Hoosiers.
Tea party groups – locally and nationally – endorsed Mourdock, who is serving his second term as state treasurer after an eight-year stint as a Vanderburgh County commissioner. They embraced his promises to vote against judicial nominees he considered to be too liberal and his action as state treasurer to sue the federal government to stop the bailout of Chrysler.
Mourdock, who is charged with investing state police pension funds, sued the Obama administration saying the bankruptcy deal would have cheated pension funds and other secured creditors. He took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and accused Obama of trying to do an end run around federal bankruptcy laws.
That – and frustration with Lugar – got the attention of national organizations. The conservative political action committee FreedomWorks mailed 44-page books to conservative voters making the case against Lugar and free market advocates Club for Growth spent $1.7 million on television, mailings and other ads in the race.
Mourdock will take on Donnelly in a race that Democrats are now fired up that they can win.
But Donnelly said, "I think we would have done fine either way."
Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb spoke to supporters at an Indiana Republican Party celebration Tuesday night. Photo by Ellie Price, The Statehouse File.
"I have enormous respect for Sen. Lugar; I couldn't think more highly of a person," he said. "Lugar and I both worked together to try and save the American auto industry. Richard Mourdock tried to destroy the auto industry."
"I am very, very excited about the chance to continue to try to create jobs for every Hoosier," he said. "On basics, I'm for the middle class and for job creation. I think that's the message that Hoosiers want. This is about Hoosier common sense."
Donnelly said he'll spend the next six month spreading his message to working Hoosiers.
"There are many months of campaigning ahead, but I am prepared to work non-stop traveling the state talking about my plan to help Indiana businesses create Hoosier jobs," he said. "While Richard Mourdock trumpets his tea party ideas and claims bipartisanship is a dirty word, I will be meeting with the hardworking men and women of this state talking about how we can get Hoosiers back to work."
Even before the final votes were tallied Tuesday night, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted out emails accusing Mourdock of being "too far out of the mainstream for independent voters."
And Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said Donnelly "fits Indiana perfectly."
"He's right in the mainstream of the Hoosier electorate," Parker said. "Richard Mourdock is the tea party candidate. He's trying to shed that label but he is the tea party candidate. He ran hard right of Richard Lugar, who was also a mainstream Hoosier senator. You look in the past, we've always elected mainstream senators and that's Joe Donnelly."
Democrats were quick to remind Hoosier voters that Lugar last week called Mourdock "unqualified" for the Senate, even though he congratulated him Friday night and said he hopes he'll prevail in November.
Even as hundreds partied at the Mourdock campaign headquarters, some Republicans were still trying to make sense of Lugar's loss.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, said she doesn't believe it was a result of his age or the questions about his residency.
Mourdock "ran a great ground campaign," she said. "Honestly I don't know why Mourdock won. I just think Mourdock ran a great campaign, and he had a groundswell of support.
But William Kubik, a political science professor at Hanover College, said the Mourdock campaign effectively painted Lugar as a politician who'd been in office too long and was out of touch with Hoosiers. He said that started with questions about Lugar's residency and the fact that he lives in Virginia and stays in hotels when he comes to Indiana.
"I thought it was going to be a very close race," Kubik said. "But I think it was the effect of all the ads, particularly at the end."
Kubik said he won't be surprised if Mourdock manages a 20-point win in November when he faces Joe Donnelly.
"It's a really Republican year," Kubik said. "He's going to come out with more moderate Republican views and look more like Dan Coats. I don't think Donnelly has a chance."
But Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana-Purdue, Fort Wayne, said Mourdock's win is the Democrats' best shot at winning the seat in November.
Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty. Timothy Cox, Tim Grimes and Ellie Price contributed to this report.
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