TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A handful of horses occupied the barn that was the setting Friday evening for Sen. Dick Lugar’s fundraiser here, but there might as well have been an elephant in the room.
After the Hoosier State’s senior Senator delivered a history lecture to several dozen supporters about the past nine months on Capitol Hill, he mentioned his re-election campaign — briefly.
“We started [in October] to organize in the counties of our state, to raise money and really try to think through with other Senators [the] recent campaigns they have had and how they progressed,” the Republican said. “And it’s been partly an education.”
After easily winning six terms in the Senate, Lugar’s political future is in peril. Last year, tea-party-backed challengers defeated Senators and candidates more conservative than Lugar. This year, national conservative groups have already focused on the Senator with a reputation for working across the aisle.
The good news for Lugar? Those same groups do not see his primary opponent, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, as their silver-bullet challenger, in no small part because of his feeble fundraising.
Nonetheless, at the podium Friday evening, host Jim Buechler began his introduction of Lugar with the words, “We hope and pray.” Then he paused before continuing: “I’m confident he will be representing Indiana in the Senate for the next six years.”
‘Microtargeting’ a Modern Campaign
Lugar explained to the crowd gathered in the sweltering barn that his campaign is using “microtargeting” for the first time, describing it as process used to “define who the electorate is.” It’s part of just five minutes he spent talking about his re-election during the 40-minute speech.
Campaign professionals have used microtargeting for at least a decade. But the Senator’s unfamiliarity with the topic illustrates just how long it’s been since Lugar has had to run a tough campaign: 1982.
Lugar is the state’s longest-serving Senator — a fact underscored on the jacket of the seven-chapter DVDs featuring Lugar’s “impact on important moments in the history of Indiana, the United States and the world” that were left for guests on the plastic tablecloths.
Lugar barely mentioned the primary before speaking more extensively about the general election. He referenced a 25-point lead over underdog Democratic candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly, according to his campaign’s internal polls. He never mentioned Mourdock by name.
In an interview with Roll Call a few days later, the affable Lugar only once acknowledged that his race will be a “struggle.” He described supporters approaching him at airports, including Transportation Security Administration agents, offering their words of encouragement more often than he has seen in years.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.