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The Downfall of a Statesman

Six-Term Indiana Senator Loses GOP Primary

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.

Dick Lugar spent almost his entire Senate career trying to make the world safer from the specter of nuclear war.

But as it turned out on Tuesday night, Indiana Republicans weren’t motivated to vote for the longtime statesman’s foreign policy bona fides, and he lost his party’s nomination to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock by about 20 points.

Indeed, the two-time Foreign Relations chairman’s devotion to an issue that had its peak in the ’80s and ’90s seemed to only fuel the narrative that he was out of touch both at home and in Washington, D.C.  

“He didn’t evolve,” one Senate Republican aide said. “When you don’t evolve in politics, you die. You have to always figure out if you’re on the leading edge. This is the major leagues. You can’t just fake your way through a Senate election.”

Yet it may be that Lugar’s ultimate downfall wasn’t that he hadn’t been playing the game right but that in recent years he didn’t seem to be playing the game at all.

In this Congress, the 80-year-old has spoken on the Senate floor for only 31 minutes over two legislative days, according to C-SPAN. By contrast, Sen.
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also facing a primary this cycle, spent 18 hours on the floor over 61 days.

In fact, Lugar hasn’t clocked double-digit hours in floor speeches since the 107th Congress — a decade ago. And in Republicans’ weekly caucus luncheon, he isn’t often a vocal participant —  although no one disputes that he has the wide respect of nearly all of his colleagues.

This wouldn’t have mattered in previous cycles such as 2006, when Lugar was the only GOP Senator without a general election opponent. But the national political landscape changed, and Lugar didn’t.

Twelve years ago, Lugar won re-election with the simple slogan: “The experience to do more.” A mantra like that wouldn’t have the same appeal to voters today, especially in a tea-party-driven GOP primary.

“It’s a bit of a tragedy for him that, for all his accomplishments in foreign policy, they’re not on the front burner right now.” said Brad Todd, who was Lugar’s media consultant in 2000. “But elections are not about what have you done for me lately, but what you are going to do for me tomorrow.”

Dwindling Prestige

Just days before the Senate held a dramatic Christmas Eve vote in 2009 on President Barack Obama’s signature health care bill, Lugar delivered a passionate floor speech — on preventing nuclear proliferation.

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