Richard Lugar 'took brunt' of voter anger, says GOP campaign chief

Voter anger led to the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana in a GOP primary, says Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. He sees tea party activism as 'good for our party.'

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
NRCC Chairmen Pete Sessions (R) of Texas, right, and Chairman Greg Walden (R) of Oregon spoke at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Wednesday in Washington D.C.

Voter anger about Washington is “on the ground all across the country,” and “Senator [Richard] Lugar took the brunt of that” in Indiana's GOP primary on Tuesday, when he was ousted by a tea party-backed candidate, says Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)

“Whether you are in Indiana, North Carolina, and any number of other places across the country, it is ground zero for discontent,” said Representative Sessions, who is charged with keeping Republican control of the House in the 2012 election, at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Wednesday. Voters want "Washington to recognize they have gotten in the way and made matters worse," he said.

One measure of voter discontent is that 59.5 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, according to the average of national polls compiled by the Real Clear Politics website. By contrast, 32.7 percent say it is on the right track. Sessions attributed much of the voter discontent to unhappiness with President Obama's policies.

Sessions played down any disruptive effect that may come from tea party challenges to Republican incumbents for not being conservative enough. “A number of my colleagues do have these challenges from within our own party,” Sessions said. “I am seeing not just a resurgence but a continued support from tea party people who are becoming involved in the system, are actively pushing each and every one of us, and I consider it not only healthy but good for our party.”

In an interview Wednesday with Fox News, Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who defeated Senator Lugar, credited the tea party for making his victory possible. He said “thousands” of tea party volunteers worked on his campaign and “got us to the finish line successfully.”

Tea party activists were quick to hail their influence. “Lugar’s defeat should wake up Washington,” Jenny Beth Martin, cofounder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said in a statement. “The tea party movement continues to be the most influential force this election year.”

Asked about Ms. Martin’s claim of influence, Sessions said, “It is a statement that is backed up with a lot of people who are angry and energized, and I see them from California to Florida. If you look at what is happening in Republican conventions across the country, they are energized. And the message is really the same – that is, big government is a problem, spending is a problem.”

One benefit of tea party activity is that “they are holding those seeking office and those in office accountable to a level they have never been held before,” says Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, NRCC deputy chairman, who also spoke at the Monitor breakfast.

Representative Walden says the tea party's influence, now being felt in Republican primaries, will help Republicans in November when the group’s energies are focused on President Obama.

“They are going to have that same energy double when it comes to the fall. If you think they are holding us accountable, wait until they get a choice between Democrats following President Obama’s agenda versus Republicans and what we are trying to do to make government smaller, more contained, less in their lives, less costly,” he said.

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