By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) — President Barack Obama and his presumptive Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, can take a few lessons from veteran Sen. Richard Lugar's loss in Indiana's GOP primary.
Voters are unhappy with incumbents, an ominous sign for the Democratic president in a GOP-leaning state he won four years ago and for nervous lawmakers, many of them running in newly redrawn districts.
Tea party-backed Richard Mourdock's easy win over the six-term Senate fixture also illustrates the deep divide that persists in the Republican base and underscores the thorny task still ahead for Romney, and other GOP candidates hoping the party will unite in time to defeat Obama on Nov. 6.
"We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now," Lugar, 80, one of the nation's longest-serving senators, said in a statement after Tuesday's election results were known. "These divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas. But these divisions are not insurmountable."
The loss of Lugar — who boasted of strong conservative credentials but was lambasted by critics for working with Democrats — also highlights the degree to which deal-makers are becoming a rarity on a Capitol Hill often consumed by partisan gridlock. He follows Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a moderate known for bipartisanship, in leaving the Senate at year's end. Others too, including former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., have left in recent years.
Ultimately, it was Lugar's efforts to cross party lines and his longevity in Washington — two issues Mourdock used against him — that proved too much for Indiana Republicans.
"Sen. Lugar has sided too many times with the Democrats," Stacy Rutkowski of Valparaiso, who voted for Mourdock, said on her way out of her polling place. "He's been there six terms, and it's time for some new blood."
A few hours after conceding, Lugar slammed Mourdock for embracing "groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it."
"This is not conducive to problem solving and governance," Lugar said. "And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve."
Broadly, Lugar's defeat may create an opportunity for Democrats working to keep a narrow four-seat majority in the Senate. National party leaders vowed to help centrist Democrat Joe Donnelly, a three-term House member from South Bend, compete against Mourdock, the conservative state treasurer, in a Senate race the party otherwise would have bypassed.
But whether Democrats follow through with that pledge — and go all in for Donnelly by spending large sums of money in the race — is an open question. Indiana has been a hard place for Democrats to win. Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election since 1964, and he did so by a single percentage point, turning out vast numbers from the Chicago-influenced urban and industrial region in Indiana's northwest.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter said the race, with Lugar out, "could move in a more competitive direction." The group and a political action committee that supports Democratic candidates began attacking Mourdock even before the polls were closed. Both described him as out of step with not just mainstream Republicans, but mainstream voters.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine said Mourdock's conservative profile has Democrats optimistic about their chances despite Indiana's Republican trend. Said Devine: "If the Senate race turns out to be a moderate Democrat and an out-of-step Republican, moderate voters who regret that they can't vote for Lugar will help Donnelly."
Republican strategist Phil Musser doubted the state will be in play come the fall.
"Nationally, Democrats will throw a lot of money into it quickly. I'm not one who believes it will be a competitive Senate race," said Musser, a former Romney aide.
The race illustrated vulnerabilities for Democrats and Republicans alike.