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Tactical Errors, Lack of Message Plague Dick Lugar

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
A yard sign calling for voters to "retire" Sen. Dick Lugar stands along the road in New Palestine, Ind. Lugar, running for his seventh term, is facing one of his toughest election battles in the Republican primary against state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Instead, he delivered four posterboards — one of which included the stunning revelation that Mourdock supported the fairness doctrine in a Congressional campaign 20 years ago. These kinds of wordy visual aids work on the Senate floor for the C-SPAN cameras but rarely on the campaign trail.

More damaging, there’s not a coherent message between accusations about Mourdock’s personal finances, use of public funds, his lack of a position on employers who hire illegal immigrants or the comprehensive test ban treaty.

The dozen local reporters who showed up for the presser can hardly make out the news or the message. Voters, meanwhile, are even more confused.

You Can’t Go Home (Without an Address)

If Lugar’s campaign provides one lesson for his Congressional colleagues, it should be this: Always keep a current address at home.

The major turning point in Lugar’s race was the fight over his Indiana residency. The bad headlines started in February 2011, when the Senator’s spokesman confirmed Lugar stays in an Indianapolis hotel when visiting the state.

But the issue reached a crescendo in the months leading up the primary. On March 15, a Marion County Election Board ruled the Senator ineligible to vote at his outdated address. After that, the Lugar campaign went past the point of recovery.

Local newspapers pounded Lugar in the headlines over the residency issue. In an effort to change the subject, the Senator’s team went negative.

Lugar’s team didn’t have a choice to fight back, but it backfired on him. Hoosiers have come to know Lugar as the Boy Scout Mayor since he won his first election as the top executive in Indianapolis in 1967.

“It shocks Hoosiers the type of campaign the senior Senator is launching, and it’s turning them off, repulsing them,” said C.O. Montgomery, a Mourdock volunteer organizer in Hancock County. “Run more of those ads, guys, because it’s working.”

Lugar successfully registered to vote at his family’s farm a couple of weeks later (the address suffices for voter registration, although Lugar doesn’t stay there). But the damage was done. The issue reinforced what so many Hoosier Republicans already suspected about Lugar: He doesn’t come home anymore.

“Back in 1970, my first date with my first wife was at the Orange County Lincoln Day dinner,” said Morgan County Republican Party Chairman Martin Weaver, an ardent Mourdock supporter. “And that’s the last time I saw Lugar at a Lincoln Day Dinner. “

‘An Opponent, Not an Enemy’

If 90 percent of success is showing up, then Mourdock will win Tuesday.

He’s been shaking hands and pouring coffee at Lincoln Day dinners like the one on Thursday night at Monrovia Christian Church, southwest of Indianapolis, for a decade. During the live fundraising auction, Mourdock parades through the round tables like Vanna White, hawking a painting of the state capital by GOP Rep. Mike Pence’s wife.

He’s done this before, and the toothy-grinned former geologist has this shtick down.

“I respect him a great deal. I voted for him many times myself,” Mourdock extolled to the crowd’s awkward silence inside the church social hall. “He’s an opponent, not an enemy.”

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