TOPICS > Politics

Assessing the Indiana Senate Race After Lugar’s Loss

May 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Indiana voters sent Richard Lugar to the U.S. Senate six times, but not again this year. He lost Tuesday to Tea Party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Gwen Ifill, Greg Fettig of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate and political analyst Brian Howey discuss why Lugar lost and preview the race to fill his seat in the Senate.

GWEN IFILL: The Tea Party staged a vigorous comeback last night, defeating an iconic Midwestern Republican.

MAN: Well, good luck.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, R-Ind.: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: Indiana voters have sent Richard Lugar to the U.S. Senate six times since 1977, but his seventh try wasn’t the charm.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Hoosier Republican primary voters have chosen their candidate for the United States Senate. I congratulate Richard Mourdock on his victory in a hard-fought race.

GWEN IFILL: The 80-year-old Lugar was crushed by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, losing by more than 20 points, and winning only two of the state’s 92 counties.

The Tea Party-backed Mourdock said Lugar was out of touch with his home state and had grown too close to Democrats in Washington. But Lugar, who has made his reputation mainly on matters of foreign policy, said such cooperation is needed now more than ever.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now. And these divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas. But these divisions are not insurmountable. And I believe that people of goodwill, regardless of party, can work together for the benefit of our country.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats who worked with Lugar in the Senate praised him today.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.: Dick argued that bipartisanship isn’t an end in itself, and it’s sometimes mistaken for centrism and compromise, when in fact, it is really the way of what he called being a constructive public servant. It is the way a constructive public servant approaches his or her job, with self-reflection, discipline and faith in the goodwill of others.

GWEN IFILL: Republicans were largely silent, but not Richard Mourdock.

CROWD: Mourdock! Mourdock! Mourdock!

GWEN IFILL: At his victory rally, Mourdock said Hoosiers were not voting against Lugar; they were voting for a different approach to governing.

RICHARD MOURDOCK (R): This race is not about animosity. It is about ideas. It is about the direction of the Republican Party. It is about the direction of our country.


GWEN IFILL: Mourdock also pledged to help alter that direction.

RICHARD MOURDOCK: Hoosier Republicans want to see the Republicans inside the United States Senate take a more conservative track, and we’re looking forward to helping them do that.


GWEN IFILL: The departure of yet another mainstream moderate could further alter the Senate landscape this fall. Democrats are defending 23 seats in November, Republicans only 10.

The most hotly contested races for both parties are under way in Massachusetts and Nevada. President Obama won Indiana in 2008, but the state is up for grabs once again this fall, when Mourdock will face Democrat Joe Donnelly, a three-term congressman.

With more on how Lugar was defeated, and what it means, we turn to Greg Fettig, co-founder of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, and Brian Howey, a political analyst and author of the Howey Politics Indiana newsletter.

Welcome, gentlemen. Good to see you in Indianapolis there tonight.

Brian Howey, what happened last night? Your poll that came out I guess last Friday showed a 10-point gap, but by the time it was said and done last night, it was a 20-point drubbing.

BRIAN HOWEY, Howey Politics Indiana: Yes.

Well, we were in the field in late March. And Sen. Lugar had a seven-point lead, but it was at 42 percent. And, of course, you know any incumbent, particularly somebody who’s been there for three decades, that’s that far south of 50 percent is in big trouble. And certainly, the poll that we released, Howey/DePauw poll that we released last Friday had Richard Mourdock up 10 percent.

And our Democratic pollster, Fred Yang, basically said the bottom could drop out on Sen. Lugar. And that’s certainly what happened. I mean, I don’t think anybody was predicting that 20 percent margin, but we knew it had a good chance to grow.

GWEN IFILL: How much of the bottom dropping out was caused by a change of mood in the Indiana electorate this year, and how much of it was self-inflicted by Dick Lugar himself?

BRIAN HOWEY: Well, it’s probably a little bit of a lot of things, his age, 80 years old, his longevity, the fact that in our March poll, Congress had a 10 percent approval rating among Hoosier voters. Those were all problems.

I have got to give the Tea Party credit. They came up with a candidate. They kept the field restricted to one challenger. And then the Lugar campaign really didn’t handle the residency issue very well. That was in the headlines for, oh, about six weeks. And it fed right into Richard Mourdock’s narrative.

And so all those things, it was like the classic death by 1,000 nicks.

GWEN IFILL: A thousand nicks.

Greg Fettig, let’s talk about what the Tea Party did in this case. Was this an anti-Lugar vote in the end, or was it a pro-Mourdock vote, or neither?

GREG FETTIG, co-founder, Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate: Well, actually, I mean, we believe we have an excellent candidate with Richard Mourdock. He really espouses was the Tea Party believes. And that’s back to constitutional conservatism.

And it’s not so much it was strictly anti-Richard Lugar. It was anti-establishment moderates. And like it or not, our country, politically, is polarized. That’s the fact of the matter, where not only are we fighting for the heart and soul of American — America that we see and should be based on the Constitution, but also within the GOP.

So what you saw last night was really a purity purging of that. And he’s commended by many as one that does reach across the aisle, but, unfortunately, in our mind, that’s a one-way road. The other side, the Democrats, don’t seem to do that. And, in fact, they advocate that, but in their mind, that’s we surrender, we being the Republicans, would surrender to their ideals. So that’s just the society we have. . .

GWEN IFILL: So you think. . .

GREG FETTIG: I’m sorry?

GWEN IFILL: I was just saying, so you think polarization is a good thing?

GREG FETTIG: No, not necessarily. It’s just the fact of what faces — it’s a reality today in American politics.

And I believe it’s been perpetuated by one party, but to reach across the aisle and work with them, when they’re not working — them being the Democrats — they’re not working, reciprocating, so like it or not, it’s the sad state of American politics, but until one political ideology or the other wins, that’s just the way it’s going to be.

GWEN IFILL: Dick Lugar had a reputation, Mr. Fettig, for being an expert on foreign policy matters. Do you think that made no dent whatsoever in the electorate in a year when the economy is driving things?

GREG FETTIG: Well, here in Indiana overall, it probably didn’t.

In the Tea Party, they’re very well-versed people within the movement that that does matter. I mean, the START treaty, we weren’t happy with, and we think that’s an old-fashioned, 1980s approach to a completely different scenario of what we see today.

But, bottom line, it’s the economic crisis the country is — the debt crisis that we face. We are going on four years now in this crisis, with no end in sight. Sen. Lugar, when he first was elected to office, the national debt was around $700 billion, and now it’s at $16 trillion.

So I really don’t and most of my peers within the movement don’t see how the same thing is going to get different results. So it was really time for a change.

GWEN IFILL: Brian Howey, how much of a role did outside money play in this campaign? There was a lot of money coming into the Tea Party groups. There was a lot of money obviously spent by an incumbent senator. Did it shape what happened?

BRIAN HOWEY: It absolutely did.

I mean, we’re looking at I have heard anywhere from $3 to $4 million that came in. It seemed to me like Richard Mourdock kind of subcontracted his campaign out to the NRA, FreedomWorks, and Club for Growth. They did a lot of bundling, a lot of direct mail, a lot of TV purchases. I’m not sure Richard Mourdock could have pulled this off if he didn’t have all the outside money coming in.

And that concerns me. On one hand, we have incumbents who seem impervious to defeat, and yet on the other hand, we seem to be replacing it with a Citizens United decision, in which a certain opaqueness has come over the process. And I think it’s going to really cause some problems down the road as this trend spreads to more states and more Senate seats.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Fettig, as a beneficiary of some of that money, what do you think?

GREG FETTIG: Well, I’m going to disagree with that, because Sen. Lugar himself had a lot of outside money. He — fund-raisers in Washington and New York City. He did have super PACs outside our borders that contributed to his campaign.

As a senator, his votes don’t just affect the citizens of Indiana. They affects all American citizens, the national debt crisis, the bailouts. All the taxpayers across the United States are liable for that debt. So to say that nobody outside Indiana should have any influence whatsoever, I just don’t believe in that.

GWEN IFILL: Brief answer from both of you, if you will. Is Indiana in play for the fall, starting with you, Mr. Fettig?

GREG FETTIG: No, absolutely not. Indiana is a red state. I truly believe President Obama won’t be voted in, in Indiana in the fall.

Joe Donnelly’s got a limited following, name recognition. And we, as in the Tea Party, are not done after yesterday. We continue to march forward and fully anticipate to be victorious in November as well.

GWEN IFILL: Brian Howey, quickly.

BRIAN HOWEY: Yes. Howey/DePauw had the race tied, 35 percent each for Joe Donnelly and Richard Mourdock. Over the past 24 years, we have had 16 years of Democratic governors. And Evan Bayh held this seat for two terms. A Democrat can do it.

GWEN IFILL: Brian Howey, Greg Fettig, thank you both so much.

GREG FETTIG: Thank you.

BRIAN HOWEY: Thank you.