It’s the end of a long political era in Indiana and possibly the start of a new one.
State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party favorite, won Tuesday’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, defeating incumbent Richard Lugar.
Lugar hasn’t been in the losing end of a Senate campaign in almost 40 years, but his streak of six consecutive victories came to an end in Indianapolis, where he once served as mayor.
“Oh, thank you so very much,” Lugar told the crowd. “Let me just make this comment this evening that Hoosier Republican primary voters have chosen their candidate for the United States Senate. I congratulate Richard Mourdock on his victory and a hard-fought race.”
The 80-year-old Lugar is Indiana’s longest ever serving Senator, having taken office in 1977. He’s known for his work on international issues, primarily on nuclear weapons, and for his bipartisan spirit — something Lugar didn’t apologize for last night.
“We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now and these divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas,” Lugar said. “But these divisions are not insurmountable. And I believe that people of good will, regardless of party, can work together for the benefit of our country.”
But that bipartisanship is ultimately what led to Lugar’s undoing, primarily because it earned the wrath of Tea Party supporters who saw Lugar as too close to Democrats.
The National Rifle Association came out against Lugar, and Super-PACs poured money to defeat him.
Lugar’s campaign in recent weeks took an unfriendly tone, with some criticizing him for being un-statesman-like in his attacks on Richard Mourdock.
Even with some polls showing his campaign behind by double-digits last week, Lugar appeared noncommittal on whether he would support Mourdock in the general election. That’s all changed now.
“I hope that Richard Mourdock prevails in November so he can contribute to the Republican majority in the Senate,” Lugar said.
Even before results started coming in Tuesday night, Mourdock’s supporters were confident. And for most, the reasons they gave for supporting Mourdock had more to do with Lugar.
“The fact that he hasn’t lived here for 35 years” bothered Shirley Babcock from Tippecanoe County, mentioning a residency issue that’s dogged Lugar this election cycle.
“When Senator Lugar moved to Virginia and pretty much sold his home, he lost touch with the values of Hoosiers,” said Jerry LaMar of Newburgh.
“He’s voted with [President] Obama on all the issues that he’s had…He’s Obama’s favorite Republican,” said Mary Cooper of Owen County.
“He has moved to the left and he’s just too old,” said Judy Gunning of Indianapolis.
This is, after all, how most incumbents are defeated: by their own vulnerabilities. But challengers still have to spark enthusiasm, and Murdock certainly accomplished that.
The margin was so decisive, with Mourdock named the winner so quickly, that the appetizers weren’t even out on the campaign’s buffet table. Even Mourdock sounded overwhelmed when he addressed the crowd.
“Every time I would start to have that feeling that we’re going to be there, that we’re going to be victorious, I would remind myself that this hasn’t been about me. This has been about all of you. You got this done,” Lugar said to applause.
Despite nasty campaigning by both sides, Mourdock told his supporters that Lugar was never his enemy.
“Would you please join me in a tremendous round of applause for Senator Dick Lugar,” Mourdock said.
Mourdock had painted Lugar as too tight with President Obama, a label he’ll now recycle for his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly.
“Well, Mr. Donnelly has been close to Mr. Obama for the last several years,” Mourdock said. “We’re going to make that record clear and it’s not going to be accepted by the voters of Indiana in November.”
Of course, Mourdock was the opponent Democrats wanted to face. His most prominent action as state treasurer was to fight the federal bailout of the auto industry.
In an email to supporters last night, Donnelly labeled Mourdock an “extremist,” and then asked for a donation.
The general election in Indiana has begun.