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Why Dick Lugar lost

at 07:28 AM ET, 05/09/2012

Instant analysis of Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar’s crushing defeat at the hands of state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Tuesday’s Republican primary cast it as yet another example of a tea party-aligned GOPer ousting a prominent face of the party establishment.

And that instant analysis would be wrong. Lugar lost — and lost badly — for a number of reasons, the vast majority of which had nothing to do with the relative tea party-ness of his opponent.

At its heart, Lugar’s defeat was attributable to the fact that he broke the political golden rule: Never lose touch with the people who elected you.

“A strong majority of GOP primary voters felt that Lugar had served too long and was too old and should retire,” said Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster who conducted several bipartisan surveys in the state. “Three-fourths of voters supporting Mourdock said their reasons centered around Lugar’s longevity, age, and lack of residency.”

Matthews added that less than one in five voters in her last poll were supporting Mourdock for what she described as “tea party talking points” including Lugar’s vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court or his support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout.

Look at Marion County, which includes the city of Indianapolis (where Lugar was mayor in the 1970s) and is the center of establishment Republicanism in the state. Lugar only won the county by eight points — not even close to the margin he would have needed to offset Mourdock’s margins in the rest of the state.

Lugar’s campaign did nothing to help him and, in fact, reinforced the fact that he had fallen badly out of touch with Republican voters in his state.

Rather than heed the advice of national campaign professionals, who told Lugar he needed to professionalize his campaign operation, the incumbent went in the opposite direction — parting ways with respected pollster Linda DiVall and surrounding himself with Senate loyalists who knew far more about cloture than campaigns.

Lugar convinced himself that the way he was regarded in Washington — as a senior statesman — was the way he was regarded in Indiana. He cavalierly dismissed the seriousness of Mourdock’s challenge and didn’t seem to grasp the danger inherent in the extended public debate over whether or not he was even a resident of the state. He did little to counter the idea that, at 80, his time to retire had come.

Did it help that he had voted for TARP and proudly touted his support for the DREAM Act? Or that as recently as Monday he was on the campaign trail defending the practice of earmarking? Absolutely not.

But, ultimately the lesson to take from Lugar’s loss is not that the tea party won another one over the establishment. Rather, it’s that governing and campaigning are two very different things. Lugar had clearly distinguished himself in the former category and thought that would take care of the latter.

It didn’t. Perhaps the most amazing piece of data from the poll conducted late last week by Matthews and Democratic pollster Fred Yang was that, when voters were asked which of the two men “will get things done” in the Senate, Lugar and Mourdock each took 38 percent.

“To think that, after a much-praised political career that started in 1967 and a Senate career that started in 1977, Richard Lugar would be tied on ‘effectiveness’ probably is the most telling result of this campaign,” wrote Yang in a column in the Howey Political Report on the poll data.

Lugar assumed, wrongly, that voters knew all they needed to know about him — and that all of the shots Mourdock and his allies were taking wouldn’t erode his connection to the state’s Republicans. But that connection was far more tenuous than he thought.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who himself beat back a potentially serious primary challenge in 2010, put it succinctly when asked about Lugar’s loss on Tuesday night.

“The moral of the story is: Don’t play defense, play offense,” said McCain “[It’s] one of the most fundamental rules of elections.

Republicans deal with fallout: Lugar had some very tough words for Mourdock after Tuesday’s primary.

“If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good senator,” Lugar said in a prepared statement issued alongside his spoken remarks. “But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington.”

Lugar also said: “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.”

And this: “And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator.”

Pretty strong stuff.

The Indiana GOP announced late Tuesday that it would hold a unity event at 9:15 this morning, featuring Mourdock with Lugar-supporting Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. Notably absent from the list of scheduled guests is Lugar.

Dalton wins in N.C., House races take shape: Lugar’s victory aside, there were several notable results in other House and congressional primaries on Tuesday.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett beat out labor-backed former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk for the nomination to face Gov. Scott Walker (R) in next month’s recall election.

In North Carolina, Democrats picked Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton over former congressman Bobby Etheridge for the state’s governor’s race. Dalton will now face former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory in a tough race for Democrats. (Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is retiring.)

Also in that state, state Sen. David Rouzer won a GOP primary to face Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) — a break for national Republicans who preferred Rouzer to 2010 nominee Ilario Pantano — and former U.S. attorney George Holding won the Republican nomination for retiring Rep. Brad Miller’s (D) seat, where he will be heavy favorite in November.

The other two major GOP primaries in the Tar Heel State will go to runoffs after no candidate reached 40 percent of the vote. In the race to face Rep. Larry Kissell (D), former congressional aide Richard Hudson and dentist Scott Keadle will face off. And in retiring Rep. Heath Shuler’s (D) district, his former chief of staff Hayden Rogers (D) will face either of two GOP businessman — Mark Meadows or Vance Patterson.

In Indiana, Iraq veteran Brendan Mullen (D) and former state representative Jackie Walorski (R) won their primaries for Senate candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D) battleground seat, and freshman Rep. Larry Bucshon (R) won his primary with just 58 percent of the vote. He will face former state representative Dave Crooks in a race Democrats hope to make competitive.

Governor’s race matchups are also set in Indiana and Wisconsin, where the primaries weren’t competitive. In Indiana, Rep. Mike Pence (R) will be the favorite against former state House speaker John Gregg (D), and in West Virginia, businessman Bill Maloney (R) will again challenge Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D).

Fixbits:

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) says he’s not dropping out and endorsing Mitt Romney any time soon.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is going up with his first TV ad in the Massachusetts Senate race. The title: “independent.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) won’t say whether he plans to seek reelection in 2013.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) gets more security after a tea party supporter says, “We have to kill the Claire Bear...” And Capitol Police are investigating. Meanwhile, potential GOP opponent Sarah Steelman says she supports that man’s right to “right to express his views.”

Ron Barber (D) is up with a new ad campaign in the Arizona special election.

A snag in the prosecution’s case against John Edwards: A government witness called Edwards “evil” in an e-mail to another witness.

Lt. Gov David Dewhurst leads Ted Cruz 51 percent to 16 percent in a new Texas GOP Senate primary poll conducted for a group that supports Dewhurst.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) says he has “no control over” the Young Guns Action Fund, a PAC that drew criticism for supporting one House incumbent over another in Illinois and then spending $100,000 to help Lugar.

Must-reads:

Mitt Romney’s new hero: Bill Clinton” — Reid Epstein, Politico

Is Obama’s gay marriage stance all about suburban voters?” — Domenico Montanaro, MSNBC

Liberal Donors’ Plan Worries Top Democrats” — Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

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