Sen. Dick Lugar trails GOP rival in poll. A surge of tea party power?
Ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary in Indiana, incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar lags challenger Richard Mourdock by 10 points, a new poll shows. A Lugar defeat would be a convincing demonstration of tea party power in 2012 election cycle.
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When asked about Lugar's residency problems, Mourdock pulls out a pocket copy of the Constitution and flips it open to Article I, Section 3: "No person shall be a Senator … who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen."Skip to next paragraph
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The definition of "inhabitant," of course, is open to interpretation, but it's that idea – that semantics overshadow the actual words and their meanings – that gives immediacy to what Mourdock told folks at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Batesville: "We must define ourselves. We must take a stand. We must win America back."
He's a "mild-mannered sort of gentle soul … who looks like a normal candidate until he speaks, and then you realize he's a throwback kind of conservative of a kind we haven't seen for a long, long time," says Gerald Wright, a political scientist at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Chastened by the inability of Indiana tea parties to coalesce around individual candidates ahead of the 2010 election, tea party activists Greg Fettig and Monica Boyer started Hoosiers for A Conservative Senate in early 2011. The umbrella group held a nominating convention last September, where a plurality of tea party groups backed Mourdock.
"We just fell in love with him," Ms. Boyer says. "And we knew if we didn't unite, we didn't have a fighting chance."
The basic idea was to create a single-election umbrella group that focuses tea party energy, while also allowing each local group to retain its independence. Tea party activists in Michigan and Florida have expressed interest in using the tactic, she adds.
Though Boyer suggests the strategy has so far worked "swimmingly," not everyone shares that assessment. The tactics of the umbrella "unity" group – both its personal attacks on Lugar as well as the vicious internecine blog wars that erupted – turned sentiments in the state against the tea party, forcing activists to defend their involvement, writes Ms. Kroyman, the White County tea party activist, in the "Hijacking the Indiana Tea Party" chapter of an unpublished tea party history.
"Richard Lugar is not a bad man, and to attack him for the silly things they are attacking him for is just nonsensical, and it really disgraces the tea party," says Kroyman, in an interview. "We don't need an umbrella group. Our strengths are unique to every group, and the strength of the tea party lies in the independence of groups."
In the end, the bid by local, state, and national tea party groups to "dump Lugar" in 2012 in favor of a Constitution-quoting earth scientist has the feel of a momentous moment in the tea party's short history, suggests Ms. Hubbard, Mourdock's grass-roots organizer.
In other words, will 2012 mark the advance of the tea party in Republican politics or its Terminal Moraine? If Mourdock wins, it would be the first time since 1952 that a sitting six-term senator has lost in a primary.
If not, it's more proof that "the tea party burned bright and faded quick," says Vanderbilt University political scientist Steven Tepper.
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