Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

The Downfall of a Statesman

Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Six-term Sen. Dick Lugar lost Indiana’s GOP primary Tuesday night. The former Foreign Relations chairman’s defeat was not unexpected — a lackluster campaign and residency problems ultimately doomed the 80-year-old.

Lugar is the seventh Senator in 30 years to lose a primary, according to a Washington Post tally.

There are two schools of thought on his electoral peril: He could have salvaged his career, or his re-election was impossible in this political climate.

Either way, Lugar’s problems were years in the making. They started before the tea party dominated GOP primaries in 2010 and prior to Obama touting his partnership with Lugar in his 2008 presidential announcement speech.

Some Hoosier conservatives trace Lugar’s biggest problem to 1977, when he sold his Indianapolis home to move to Washington, D.C., but kept the local address on his voter registration.  

But Lugar’s woes probably started in 2006, when he had no competition for re-election, allowing his political instincts and operation to atrophy.

Lugar was one of three Republicans in the December 2010 lame-duck session to vote to proceed on the DREAM Act, a bill he co-sponsored with  Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). He dropped his support of that immigration bill this Congress, but local conservatives complain it’s too little, too late.

This winter, Lugar aggressively latched on to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a popular issue with the conservative base. It was a comfortable way by which he could attack the president and placate primary voters.

But whatever momentum Lugar’s team gained from that message was thwarted by its inability to run a nimble election campaign and to anticipate his political vulnerabilities — chiefly his residency issues. He made specific strategic errors and struggled to define Mourdock, as well as his own message.

Forgotten was the tally of nuclear arms Lugar helped deactivate, or the number of presidents who made the Indiana Senator their first phone call when a diplomatic crisis emerged.

“Sen. Lugar made such a tremendous contribution to the country’s foreign policy for so long a time,” Todd said. “Elections are not reward systems. They’re job applications.”

For all of Lugar’s acclaimed efforts overseas, his political future lay in Indiana. And a Senate foreign affairs legend learned the hard way that all politics was, and continues to be, local.

Emily Cadei contributed to this report.

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