Challenge mounting for Lugar's seat

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • Image via Wikimedia Commons

A report by Politico's David Canatnese about Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock has the Hoosier blogosphere all atwitter, and with good reason.

Come 2012, it seems Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republicans' most senior senator, will face a primary challenger for the first time since 1976.

Cantanese reports:

Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is taking the steps to formally launch a primary challenge against six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the coming weeks, according to multiple Republicans familiar with his thinking.

Mourdock, a former county commissioner who won the treasurer's office in 2006, has been solidifying his plans by reaching out to campaign operatives and vendors and was in Washington this week to touch base with a coterie of players who could aid his insurgent bid.

"Mourdock is meeting folks around town. He was here yesterday. I’m expecting a public announcement very soon," one conservative operative told POLITICO.

Offered another GOP player, "I understand Mourdock is planning to jump into the race soon. Sounded like weeks, not days."

Tea Party-inclined voters on the far right have been dissatisfied with the relatively-moderate, widely-beloved senior senator for a while now. It doesn't matter that Lugar tends to vote along party lines on most of the big issues (see his vote yesterday to repeal health care, e.g.), and is widely respected as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The fact is, anything that doesn't walk and talk like jingoist protectionism these days isn't going to pass the Tea Party smell test. Democrats in this state (including contributors to this publication) admire Lugar. And Lugar is a huge supporter of the perennially-failed DREAM Act and voted for the START Treaty. We all know what that means.

Enter State Treasurer, Richard Mourdock.

It's good to be clear about Mourdock's alliances and principles up front. During his bid for re-election last year, Mourdock invited the notorious Arizona sheriff, Joseph Arpaio, to speak at one of his fund-raisers. As the New York Times writes, Arpaio "first gained national attention in the 1990s for forcing inmates to wear pink underwear, housing them in tents and feeding them food of a green hue, and provoked an outcry when he marched 200 illegal immigrant inmates in the streets from one jail to another." He is currently the subject of several federal investigations for, among other things, obstructing investigations into alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act.

(As a side note: I was criticized by Mourdock allies for including that fact in NUVO's election preview last October. Given the chance, I would include it again. My response then is what it remains now: If you don't want your unsavory bed fellows paraded in public, choose better bedfellows.)

What remains to be seen now, is whether State Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel) will also join the fray. Like Mourdock, he's a Tea Party darling; like Mourdock, he's used the immigration issue as his political fulcrum.

Delph has introduced several Arizona-style laws to the State Senate over the last few years, which critics say is tantamount to legitimizing racial profiling. Delph insists the law is written with special protections against discrimination, and merely enforces laws that are already on the books. The difference this year is that his bill (SB 590) actually stands a chance with Republicans controlling both chambers in the Statehouse and the governorship.

But this may be much ado about nothing; Mourdock and Delph don't come close to Lugar when it comes to name-recognition, public trust and, perhaps most importantly, the ol' war chest.

Slate's David Weigel offers this choice bit of insight, which seems rather astute:

Lugar's heresy to the Tea Partiers is not comparable to, say, that of Olympia Snowe. She voted for a version of health care reform in committee, and she voted for the stimulus. Lugar has merely voted for START and the DREAM Act, and he looks vulnerable, because he hasn't run a tough race in decades. [...]

If the GOP race for president drags on a bit, it will drag on to Indiana, driving higher turnout — and Tea Party coups have not been won with high turnout, but with voter enthusiasm in sleepy late primaries. (Alaska and Delaware happened in August and September 2010.)

I think it's pretty safe to assume the GOP race for president will drag on for more than a bit. That's what happens when there's such a leadership vacuum you're most bankable name is a tweet-happy reality TV star who can't finish a single term as governor. Methinks Lugar has little to worry about.