THE TEA PARTY IS ALIVE: Insurgent Conservative Is Crushing Establishment GOP Senator Dick Lugar

Dick LugarDick Lugar might be on his last legs in Indiana.

Photo: AP

For proof that the Tea Party can still influence a Republican election, take a look at the incredible situation going on in the Indiana Republican race for a U.S. Senate seat. Introducing Richard Mourdock, the Indiana State Treasurer, the Republican challenger and Tea Party darling who’s running against Dick Lugar, the third-most senior member of the Senate. Lugar has served since 1976. 

“He’s been a very good Senator. But sometimes you get to a point where you get out of touch with where people are,” Sal Russo, the Tea Party Express co-founder, told Business Insider of Lugar. “I think that’s his biggest problem.”

There’s a new poll out today, by Howey-DePauw University, in advance of the Republican primary on Tuesday. Look at the unflattering results for Lugar:

Indiana poll

Photo: Howey-DePauw

The important number is that Mourdock holds a 7-point lead among the definites. There are still a lot of ways this could break in Lugar’s favour, but he’s like a sports team that is on its last breath of playoff hopes — he’s going to need a lot of help.

First, he needs to firmly lock up all the “could change minds” and “leans” on his side, and then he has to convince a lot of undecided and “leaning” Mourdock voters to come to his side. 

How did this happen? In much of the same way all of those new Republicans came into office in 2010. Lugar is a moderate Republican, another in a declining Congressional population that has already seen popular Sen. Olympia Snowe proclaim she will retire. He voted for the Wall Street bailout, auto industry bailout and has supported the DREAM Act. 

And Lugar hasn’t exactly been quick to pounce on his opponent, this Washington Post story notes, all the while Mourdock has spent and spent to dig into his poll numbers. It has worked. 

Only recently has Lugar begun to go on the offensive, like in a press conference he held today:

“Every person in Indiana who wants me to continue, every person wherever they might be at this point, I encourage them to come out,” he said. “Come out immediately, as fast as you can.”

That might be the problem: Not a lot of people want him to continue.  Take a look at the top reasons Indiana Republicans say they are voting for Mourdock. Most of them have nothing to do with policy gripes. Most of them, in fact, have nothing to do with Mourdock.

Indiana poll

Photo: Howey-DePauw

“I think that’s one of the things that happens with people when they’re in office for too long,” Russo said of Lugar. “They start to think they’re a representative of the government to the people, rather than a representative of the people to the government. I think that’s abundantly clear in Indiana.”

Just a month ago, Lugar’s campaign was still confident. Today, he’s scrambling, throwing out random statistics, like the one that he just has to win five more votes in each county

But it looks bleak, to say the least, for the six-term Senator. On Star Wars Day, this is a reminder that Episode IV came out a year after Lugar began serving in the Senate. 

Russo thinks this is as much a testament of the Tea Party’s continued influence as anything. During the Tea Party Express’ first national bus tour in the spring of 2009, Russo said that 85 to 90 per cent of the participants had never been active in any political campaign. That has flipped completely — on this tour, 90 per cent are active.

“Sometimes everyone says, ‘Well, gee, there are not as many protestors as we used to have,'” Russo said. “Well, that’s correct. People now don’t see a need to protest, because they’ve seen that conservative political action will make a difference.”

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