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Senators stunned by defeat of Lugar in Indiana primary

Republicans mum; Democrats glum

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One day after the stunning defeat of six-term Sen. Richard G. Lugar in Indiana's GOP primary by tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, Democrats in Washington publicly mourned the veteran lawmaker's loss, while Republicans, for the most part, didn't want to talk about it.

That a longtime lawmaker like Mr. Lugar could be toppled, despite decades of foreign-policy expertise and a litany of legislative accomplishments, left other incumbents quaking in their boots. Meanwhile, tea party groups, energized by their success in Indiana, vowed to take out more moderates across the country just as they did in 2010.

Mr. Lugar is the latest example of how the tea party has become lethal to veteran Republican legislators whose records inevitably contain some votes for tax increases or other spending the movement deems intolerable.

Republicans didn't want to be reminded of it Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, up for re-election in Kentucky in 2014, brushed off questions about Mr. Lugar, while Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, who is also on the ballot in 2014, said he didn't care to comment.

Instead, it was Democrats who lamented the loss of their colleague.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, applauded his colleague's efforts to continue weapons-control talks at the end of the Cold War and his work for fair elections in the Philippines.

"Whether you agreed with him or not, whether he had the gavel or didn't, Dick Lugar had an approach to the Senate and to governing that was always the same," Mr. Kerry said. "He refused to allow ideology and partisan politics to get in the way of the need of the country to get together and find a common ground. His expertise on complicated issues honed over 36 years really can't be replicated."

Others mixed their praise of Mr. Lugar with fierce indictments of the Republican Party.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said that as Republicans become more "extreme," Democrats will win more seats.

"I think the Republican Party wants to lose ground," Mr. Levin told The Washington Times. "They're going to stand by and do nothing while radical folks, basically extreme folks, take over the party."

While some Democrats lamented the loss, the Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express - two groups that poured money and effort into defeating Mr. Lugar - announced that they were launching into their next big battle, in Texas.

The Club for Growth announced Wednesday it would spend $1 million on ads opposing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is running against a tea party favorite, former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, in the May 29 GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

"Texas newspapers describe David Dewhurst as a moderate at heart because he has grown the size of government, supported new taxes and has done his best to stop conservative politics in Austin," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.

Sal Russo, chief strategist for Tea Party Express, said his group's goal this year was to nurture candidates earlier in the election process and make sure they know how to campaign successfully. They did that with Mr. Mourdock, meeting with the Indiana state treasurer early last year before endorsing him in September.

But to lawmakers who value working across the aisle, Mr. Lugar's departure from the Senate bodes ill.

It's likely to further slim the ranks of Republicans willing to work with the other side, after Mr. Mourdock made clear that if elected, he has no intention of compromising his views on taxes and spending in Washington.

Mr. Lugar said that mindset is slowly killing the Republican Party.

"If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good senator," he said. "But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate."

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