Tea party targets Sen. Richard Lugar: Can moderate Republicans survive?
Tea party activists in Indiana will work to unseat 36-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar, a centrist, in an 'eat your own' gambit that could shape the direction of the Republican party.
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Despite his name recognition and seniority, Lugar does have political weaknesses, especially given the current antiestablishment mood in the country, with Congress seeing record low approval ratings. Anti-Washington sentiments are so strong that a Lugar spokesman recently said that even "the dog catcher" stands a chance at defeating an incumbent seen as the establishment candidate.Skip to next paragraph
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Tea party activists have several beefs with Lugar:
- His support of President Obama's Supreme Court nominees.
- His support of the 2008 TARP bailout, his vote to renew the START treaty with Russia.
- His refusal to back an amendment that would have made it easier for Americans to carry concealed weapons.
- His co-sponsorship of the failed DREAM Act, which aimed to create a path to legal residency for students who illegally came to the US as children.
But the more general complaint from the tea party is that Lugar, who first made his name as the mayor of Indianapolis in the 1960s, is too willing to go along with the Washington establishment instead of listening to demands from Americans to cut spending and lower the national debt – two pillars of the tea party platform.
"The nation has a problem with not only a budget deficit – a severe one – but also a massive debt problem … [He] hasn't done much to combat that, so it's time for somebody else," Greg Fettig, the co-chair of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, told the Associated Press last week.
The outcome of the challenge will be a gauge on whether the tea party's fortunes have continued to rise after its successes in the 2010 election. But some recent polls "suggest that there's more criticism of the tea party than there used to be," says Indiana University public affairs professor Leslie Lenkowsky.
Indiana also has an open primary, where Democrats and Independents can cast votes in the Republican primary. In the end this may weaken the influence of the tea party's campaign to defeat Lugar.
Also helping Lugar's cause in the minds of Indiana voters is the prospect of a Hoosier at the top of the Republican power structure if Republicans take the Senate, Mr. Lenkowski predicts.
Before a press conference announcing the Tea Party Express campaign in Indianapolis on Thursday, tea party activists said the effort isn't about Lugar's penchant for bipartisanship, but the Republican party's tradition of fiscal principles.
"The tea party has been the one force most active and vocal in standing up for fiscal responsibility, and because of that a lot of senators and representatives have started to change their ways," says Levi Russell, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express.
"But it's Dick Lugar who told the tea party to get real, that he knows better, and that he's immune from their criticism and need to listen to them. He's somebody who is not interested in seeing the light, so, as Reagan said, he needs to feel the heat."