Richard Lugar Becomes Latest Tea Party Casualty

Longtime moderate Indiana Senator falls to hard-line conservative

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Indiana Senator Richard Lugar is the latest victim of the war being waged by hard-line conservatives against Republican moderates and Washington insiders.

Lugar, who has served for more than three decades in the Senate, lost his bid for re-nomination Tuesday to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a favorite of conservative Tea Party activists. Mourdock will now face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in the general election.

Lugar, 80, was widely respected in the capital for his foreign-policy expertise and his pragmatism. But he fell out of favor among Indiana Republicans, who have moved to the right in recent years. Lugar also couldn't shake off the perception that he had become a creature of Washington who was too interested in compromise. His critics pointed out that he didn't have a home in Indiana and argued that he didn't listen to constituents as much as he should have.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

Lugar is the latest in a line of relatively moderate GOP leaders who have fallen to more conservative challengers. In 2010, Utah Sen. Robert Bennett lost his bid for re-nomination and Delware Rep. Michael Castle also fell to a more conservative opponent in his Senate bid. In each case, the conservative nominee lost the general election.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost her bid for ren-omination by the GOP in 2010, also falling to a more conservative challenger, but she ran as an Independent and won.

A spokesman for Indiana Democrats immediately labeled Mourdock "a Tea Party extremist who is out of touch with Hoosiers." The spokesman referred to Mourdock's comment to the Indianapolis Star that he "didn't take a pledge to support every Hoosier job," and the spokesman added: "Richard Mourdock thinks Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, wants to cut $11 billion from funding for veterans' care and $5 billion from Indiana students and classrooms." 

[Influential Conservative Group Endorses Lugar Challenger]

Donnelly said he will campaign for the Senate as the candidate of "Hoosier common sense." He said Mourdock is too extreme for the state, as shown in his opposition to the federal bailout of the auto industry. Donnelly told MSNBC that Mourdock, if elected, would add to the polarization in Washington and make the nation's divisions worse.

For his part, Mourdock praised Tea Party activists who "got us to the finish line successfully" for his huge win. Rejecting the prospect of compromise, he told Fox News Wednesday that he wants to help create a conservative majority in the Senate: "I have a mindset that bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view."

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  • Indiana's Lugar Loses 
  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" and is the author of "The Presidency" column in the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com or on Twitter.