Lugar’s Loss Raises Questions for November

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  May 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM EST

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Richard Lugar of Indiana has been in the Senate for more than 35 years. Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

As longtime senators, the media’s chattering class and political consultants ponder the meaning of Sen. Richard Lugar’s overwhelming loss in Indiana’s Republican primary, the prevailing question will be: What does it mean for November?

Is Lugar’s ouster a warning to incumbents? A symbol of a newly strengthened Tea Party? Does it offer Democrats a chance at winning a Senate seat, thereby fending off a GOP takeover of the chamber?

Lugar fell to Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, in dramatic fashion. His race this spring was plagued with missteps and found him on the defensive about his residence, his ties to the state and his relationship with President Obama. Mourdock, who for more than a year was considered a longshot with lackluster fundraising, ultimately beat the six-term senator by more than 20 percent as the Tea Party and conservative leaders across the country turned their attention to the race.

The president issued a statement lauding Lugar’s “distinguished service in the United States Senate,” a release sent by the White House under the inaccurate subject line “Statement by the President on the Retirement of Senator Richard Lugar.”

“While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything, I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done. My administration’s efforts to secure the world’s most dangerous weapons has been based on the work that Senator Lugar began, as well as the bipartisan cooperation we forged during my first overseas trip as Senator to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan,” wrote Mr. Obama, who fondly recounted those travels with Lugar in his book “The Audacity of Hope.”

“Senator Lugar comes from a tradition of strong, bipartisan leadership on national security that helped us prevail in the Cold War and sustain American leadership ever since. He has served his constituents and his country well, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” the president wrote.

As NewsHour foreign affairs editor Mike Mosettig notes, Lugar may have fallen to the curse of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Mike writes that Lugar is the fifth top Foreign Relations Committee member over the last 60 years to lose his seat, starting with Sen. Tom Connally falling under the Eisenhower landslide that swept even then-Democratic Texas in 1952. More from his piece:

As a Senate historian noted, the men (and they have all been men) who assume that august title are treated with great deference in Washington — many embassy invitations, overseas travel and morsels of classified information from the president and top U.S. officials — but their constituents wind up wondering if their senator is spending too much time worrying about problems abroad and not enough about highways and public works projects at home.

The Indianapolis Star has more on Lugar’s legacy here.

The Tea Party Express took a victory lap Tuesday night, telling supporters the result means it is “clear that the Tea Party is alive and well in 2012.”

“We announced that if our politicians are careless and frivolous with taxpayer’s money, we will go after you, no matter what side of the aisle you are on,” the group wrote in a statement. “Republican Senator Dick Lugar had been sitting in office for more than 35 years, slowly drifting further and further away from the basic ideals conservatives and Republicans are supposed to stand for.”

Democrats also rejoiced about the potential turn in political fortune and have been pointing out that Lugar has not committed to backing Mourdock in the general election.

Democrats are cautiously optimistic about whether Rep. Joe Donnelly can beat Mourdock this fall. After all, this is a state that has looked bright red for a long time, with one blip of Mr. Obama narrowly winning in 2008.

Donnelly survived a tough challenge in 2010, especially considering he was the 12th most targeted Democrat in the nation when it comes to spending from outside groups. But Republicans like to remind the Democrats that Brad Ellsworth lost his 2010 bid by double digits.

Roll Call devotes its entire front page to Lugar’s stinging loss, including a piece from Kate Ackley about the senator’s strong ties to K Street.

Shira Toeplitz and Meredith Shiner offer a forensic examination of what went wrong for Lugar, from his approach to the Tea Party challenge to how he used his role over the last year:

In this Congress, the 80-year-old has spoken on the Senate floor for only 31 minutes over two legislative days, according to C-SPAN. By contrast, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also facing a primary this cycle, spent 18 hours on the floor over 61 days.

In fact, Lugar hasn’t clocked double-digit hours in floor speeches since the 107th Congress — a decade ago. And in Republicans’ weekly caucus luncheon, he isn’t often a vocal participant — although no one disputes that he has the wide respect of nearly all of his colleagues.

What’s next for the esteemed Foreign Relations panel? The paper finds a “thin bench” lined up on the Republican side.

ON WISCONSIN

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett defeated former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk to claim the Democratic nomination and the opportunity to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election.

Barrett took 58 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Falk. The Milwaukee mayor ran up the margin in his home county, 72 percent to 25 percent, and outperformed Falk in Dane, 62 percent to 31 percent.

Walker had no trouble in the GOP primary, winning 97 percent of the vote. His received 626,538 votes, about 7,500 more than Barrett and Falk combined.

A poll released last week by Marquette Law School found Barrett and Walker nearly deadlocked, with the Democrat ahead, 47 percent to 46 percent, among registered voters and the Republican leading, 48-47, among likely voters. The Barrett-Walker race will be a rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial contest that the Republican won by five points.

Organized labor, which had backed Falk to the tune of $4 million dollars in the primary, quickly aligned behind Barrett.

“Tom Barrett is a strong leader who will end the political turmoil Scott Walker has brought to this state and reunite Wisconsin to get us moving forward again,” We Are Wisconsin executive director Kristen Crowell said in a statement.

The Workers Voice group launched a new social media campaign about the recall. The idea, a spokesman said, is to have activists use their social networks to make calls into Wisconsin over the next few weeks.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is also getting in on the Wisconsin action with an ad buy in Madison (very friendly turf for Democrats in the Badger State) that reminds voters about the reasons for the recall effort in the first place. Click here to watch the spot.

The Republican Governors Association will begin airing a new ad Wednesday blasting Barrett’s handling of Milwaukee’s economy.

DEFICIT DEBATE

On Tuesday, Judy Woodruff talked with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., about his new book, the “Debt Bomb,” to get his take on what’s wrong with Washington.

The conservative told Just that “everybody” will need to sacrifice to prevent the “debt bomb” from exploding.

His solution? Term limits, to start with. He’s made a personal pledge to serve just two terms.

Coburn said most politicians are “careerists” who care most about re-election, so fixing the country’s problems “becomes No. 2.”

Watch the segment here or below:

2012 LINE ITEMS

The pro-Mitt Romney Restore our Future super PAC is putting up this ad focused on the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney flap in nine swing states.

  • Romney told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the president’s “Julia” graphic was nothing more than a “cartoon” that made his campaign seem “weak.”

  • While he opposed the government bailout of the auto industry, Romney told a local TV station in Cleveland on Monday that he would “take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.” Romney said the president followed his recommendation to let the companies go through a process of “managed bankruptcy.”

  • The Obama campaign went live with its second batch of Spanish-language television ads on Tuesday focusing on health care. The ads argue that the president’s law gives affordable health care “to up to 9 million previously uninsured Hispanics by 2014, enabling 736,000 young Hispanics to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans, strengthening Medicare so that 1.2 million Hispanic beneficiaries can receive free preventive screenings and affordable prescription drugs.” The ads will air in Colorado, Nevada and Florida. Watch the Nevada spot here or below.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a broad amendment to the state Constitution banning gay marriage. NewsHour reporter-producer Katelyn Polantz examined the NAACP’s strategy for fighting the amendment: using gritty images from the Civil Rights era to say the amendment would bolster hate and bigotry and urging a “no” vote even for people who disagree with same-sex marriage.

  • Indiana voters also chose nominees for key congressional races Tuesday.

  • NewsHour coordinating producer Linda Scott writes that Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked an Obama administration bill that would end a tax break for the wealthy to fund an extension of low interest rates for federal student loans. If failed on a mostly party-line procedural vote, 52-45, denying Democrats the 60 votes needed to debate the bill on the floor. The competing factions on the issue are expected to reach some sort of compromise by the July 1 deadline, when the 3.4 percent interest rate will double for more than 7 million students.

  • Tim Kaine, Virginia’s former governor and current U.S. Senate hopeful, on Tuesday called for “relationship equality” to be part of the Democratic Party’s platform.

  • John Stanton of Roll Call surveys members of Congress who belong to the Tattoo Caucus.

  • Roll Call’s Joshua Miller reports that Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., is up with his first television ad of the 2012 cycle, a positive spot that seeks to highlight the Bay Stater’s independent credentials.

  • Sacha Baron Cohen takes his pranks to Washington.

  • The wife of the lawmaker who yelled “You lie!” at President Obama — Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. — got into a shouting match Tuesday with South Carolina State Sen. Jake Knotts over his efforts to kill a bill that would put candidates back on primary ballots.

  • The Faith and Freedom Coalition announced Tuesday that its annual conference will be held June 14-16 in Washington, D.C. Among the confirmed speakers: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the White House at 2:10 p.m. and hosts a concert in the East Room honoring songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David at 7 p.m.

  • Vice President Joe Biden hosts a dinner with House Democratic freshmen at the Naval Observatory at 6:30 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a campaign event in Fort Lupton, Colo., at 11:30 a.m. and campaigns in Oklahoma City with Gov. Mary Fallin at 4:20 p.m.

  • Ron Paul has no public campaign events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz and @indiefilmfan.