Barack Obama's Mixed-Bag Week

The Obama camp can celebrate Dick Lugar defeat, but should worry about the Scott Walker recall.

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The week's clearest good news for Obama came in Tuesday's Indiana primary. Richard Lugar, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, was shown the door by his longtime constituents who voted overwhelmingly to deny him the nomination in favor of hyperpartisan state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

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Lugar brought this upon himself. He was schooled in the lessons of 2010 Tea Party primary victims like Bob Bennett of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mike Castle of Delaware, but he chose to ignore them. Rather than worship at the altar of Tea Party truculence, he chose to become a martyr for old-style senatorial comity. "If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good senator," Lugar wrote in an instantly classic farewell statement. "But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington."

But the Tea Partyers also went to school on their own mistakes. In 2010 Indiana conservatives couldn't rally to keep Dan Coats, a carpetbagging lobbyist and former senator, from grabbing the GOP nomination. This year they coalesced behind Mourdock and snagged what could well be their only insurgent victory this cycle. In doing so, they opened an opportunity for the Democrats, who would have stood zero chance of dislodging Lugar. While Mourdock remains the favorite, a late March poll taken by Howey Politics Indiana and DePauw University found a dead heat between him and the Democratic nominee, Rep. Joe Donnelly. The same poll found Hoosiers supported the auto industry bailout by 51 to 44 percent. "This is a competitive race in the fall," says Indiana political analyst Brian Howey.

More broadly, Mourdock gives Obama and Democrats an opportunity to remind independents of the Tea Party's sway in the GOP and its unpopularity with everyone else.

  • Mary Kate Cary: The Tea Party Didn't Beat Dick Lugar, He Beat Himself
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.
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