Richard Green Lugar is this year's "resume candidate." At 63, an Eagle Scout, Rhodes scholar, naval officer, small businessman, farmer, mayor and four-term U.S. senator with a solidly conservative voting record, Lugar on paper has all the credentials to be a serious GOP presidential candidate.
On the stump, the Indiana senator argues, without mentioning names, that his opponents are shortsighted and do not appreciate the public's capacity to understand complex issues, such as foreign policy. Their strategy to avoid such issues may work briefly, but "at some point you head out on the thin ice and you fall through."
But a long record of public service and an eagerness to address issues that other candidates avoid have not been enough to generate much enthusiasm for Lugar among Republican voters. A serious, sober conservative who long has eschewed sound bites, handlers and "the message of the day," Lugar has nonetheless CAMPAIGN '96 THE CANDIDATES been unable to capitalize on the disaffection within his own party and seize on an issue that energizes voters. If anything, he is uncomfortable with the strong rhetoric and anti-government fervor of many Republicans. He was appalled by the recent shutdown that resulted from the impasse in budget talks between President Clinton and congressional Republicans and is skeptical of agendas that he thinks promise quick fixes to difficult problems.
"We must understand that the 1994 elections were not the Republican Revolution' any more than the Declaration of Independence and the skirmishes at Concord and Lexington were revolutions,' " he declared in announcing for president. "Revolutions are hard fought and harder won. What lies ahead are Trenton on Christmas morn, the snows at Valley Forge and finally Yorktown."
In a recent speech here to the National Issues Briefing, a conservative Christian group, Lugar drew none of the spontaneous applause and laughter that other candidates would provoke by their rhetorical fury over abortion and other emotional issues such as school prayer.
A lay preacher, Lugar chose instead to dust off a college commencement speech about the importance of public officials telling the truth, a somewhat academic address that sounded like a respectable Sunday sermon Lugar could deliver back in Saint Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis where he and Charlene Smeltzer, his wife of 39 years, are members.
Many in the audience left the hall describing Lugar as a nice guy who lacked the fire to be president. "He needs more buzz-zoom -- or whatever," said Jim Miller, a Benton, Ky., retiree. "People need to be excited, to be pulled into the race," agreed Miller's friend, Robert Wright, another Kentucky retiree.
To Lugar, politics is an intellectual -- not an emotional -- pursuit. When only eight supporters showed up for a reception at an Austin hotel on one recent campaign trip to Texas, Lugar welcomed them for "coming to think with me about the issues." Go to a Lugar meeting and "you don't find yourself standing and clapping," said Keith Bulen, the Indiana GOP leader who convinced Lugar to leave the city school board and run for mayor of Indianapolis in 1967.
"He's too thoughtful to boil down to sound bites," said Mitch Daniels, Lugar's former chief of staff and one of his top campaign advisers.
If Lugar's ideas seem too complex and abstract on television, the senator can be charming and personable in small gatherings, such as the Austin meeting. There Lugar can philosophically wrestle with issues and attempt to sway voters one-on-one. "Maybe," Lugar told his Texas supporters wistfully, "the issue is not at what decibel you pound the podium." Sales Tax Not Selling But in the chill winter of 1996, Lugar concedes that one of his key ideas -- a 17 percent national sales tax -- is proving a hard sell. Listeners seem better able to grasp his ideas for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and the federal income tax than the other half of his proposal: to make up all the lost income tax revenue with what Lugar calls a national "consumption tax." Lugar would abolish the IRS bureaucracy and depend on state governments to collect the tax.
But he fears his tax proposal has been "flooded out" by public attention on the flat tax proposed by Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr. "I am having difficulty getting the idea across," he concedes. Lugar argues his tax plan would "mean larger pay checks for all Americans, create an incentive for savings and stimulate investment and economic growth. What people earned would be theirs and they could spend it in the best way for their families.
"I'm claiming this will jump-start the economy back to historic growth," he said. To many, this sounds radical coming from a guy who is trying to sell himself as a midwestern conservative. Lugar said he conceived the tax after his 1994 reelection as a way to help the numerous Indiana residents who told him they were worried that their real incomes were flat with no hope of rising.
Yet the idea, which Lugar unveiled when he declared his candidacy April 19, has proved too complex to reduce to a TV spot. "It's something I struggled with -- how to say this responsibly in 30 seconds," he said. An hour-long seminar might not be long enough, the candidate allowed.
His first TV ad, warning of the danger of nuclear terrorism, gave him one of his few bursts of national attention, if only because it reminded many of a controversial 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson commercial. The Johnson ad, which showed a young girl pulling the petals from a daisy moments before a nuclear bomb exploded, ran only once before nervous Democrats yanked it from the airwaves as too scary.
Lugar had hoped the campaign would turn on foreign policy, the subject of his 1988 book "Letters to the Next President," in which he argued that a successful president must be the nation's foreign policy leader. In the book, as in his current campaign, Lugar acknowledges "the usual advice that elections are decided on domestic bread-and-butter issue -- jobs, stable prices, security for the elderly, opportunity for the young."
For two years, Lugar was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he finds it hard to turn away from an area that he has described as "a high point of public service, adventure and discovery." But his discussions of issues such as the disposal of chemical and nuclear weapons are often arcane, as even his own staff will admit.
Mark Lubbers, his campaign manager, has a ready explanation for such discussions: Lugar suffers from "having been in the Senate too long."
"There is no doubt about it, he has steadfastly refused to be handled," said Lubbers.
Daniels, who served in the Reagan administration after leaving Lugar's staff, said that is both the beauty and curse of the Lugar's campaign. "I simultaneously love him for it and wince, because it is costing him a chance for a wider audience," Daniels said.
Lubbers argues that Lugar is "less professorial" than last spring when he entered the race on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. Some aides then wanted Lugar to delay his announcement. But the senator said no, that a lot of his longtime supporters had traveled to Indianapolis for the start of this campaign. He would begin his campaign as promised, but with a prayer for the bombing victims.
At times, Lugar appears determined to lecture the members of his party rather than woo them. In 1994, when he addressed his own state GOP convention, he offered a talk about nuclear proliferation -- not the party's prospects for election victories. Days after he was booed in a South Carolina debate over his support for a ban on the sale of assault weapons, Lugar began airing a new TV spot proclaiming his stand on the issue.
In another TV ad, he champions the federal food stamp program, a program many GOP leaders wanted to turn over to the states as block grants. Almost single-handedly, Lugar, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, blocked the move. Lugar said the program works fine and doesn't need any drastic change.
"I want to be elected president on the right terms," Lugar said in a recent interview. He makes it clear that those terms do not include pandering to what he calls the "politics of paranoia," an implicit reference to Patrick J. Buchanan, the TV commentator-turned candidate, who in the 1980s publicly accused Lugar of being disloyal to Ronald Reagan's foreign policy.
But personal criticism is rare from Lugar. About as close as he gets is branding Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), the GOP front-runner, as "an in-basket sort of guy" who always asks, "What's the problem?" rather than having his own well-grounded belief in what's wrong with the nation.
Lugar says he is troubled by the tone and the nature of this year's GOP contest. "I've never seen an election with so many candidates and so many messages," he said. But, he says, he has refused to join the fray.
"I've still got the high ground." In Indiana, Dull Is Fine The dull image that dogs Lugar in Iowa and New Hampshire has never troubled Indiana voters, according to Jerry Lyst, editor of the Indianapolis Star. "You don't need David Letterman as president," the editor said. "The present White House is entertaining enough."
Indeed, Lugar's campaign has attempted to make the candidate's seriousness a plus. Reporters who join the senator's entourage are given clippings that other candidates would just as soon forget: a New York Times story headlined "Lugar Revels in a Lackluster Image," a Time magazine account that begins with an "I'm dull" quote and a Philadelphia Inquirer article that describes him as a boring candidate. "I've never purported to be an entertainer or performer or a bon vivant," Lugar tells the paper.
Four years ago former Democratic Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas's academic lectures on the wrongs of the American economy and national debt did to Democrats what Lugar's speeches often do to Republicans. Not surprisingly, one of the people with whom Lugar conferred before entering the New Hampshire primary was Tsongas. The two didn't debate issues but discussed the style of presidential politics, according to aides.
To those, like Daniels, who know Lugar, he is "practically an Indianan icon," beloved by voters who had followed his career since 1964, when he was first elected to the Indianapolis School Board. In 1994 he won reelection to his fourth Senate term by 1 million votes -- an Indiana record -- and carried 91 of the state's 92 counties.
Much of Lugar's Indiana base is built on admiration for the way he ran Indianapolis while serving as mayor from 1968 to 1975. There he built a reputation as a progressive moderate, a man who walked the streets after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and prevented rioting. He remains involved in urban problems, though characteristically he is not one to call for quick solutions.
On Capitol Hill, Lugar has established a solidly conservative voting record. He would, for example, wipe out farm subsidies and called for a dramatic restructuring of the Agriculture Department's vast field office structure long before Clinton ordered it.
But the last time he had any serious competition was in 1982, when he won reelection with 53.8 percent of the vote. It has been a long time since then and Lugar long has had his eye on national office, but each time, aides say, it wasn't his time. Friends say that the senator was hurt when George Bush bypassed him for Dan Quayle, the state's junior senator, as his running mate in 1988. At 63, Lugar figured this year was the time, especially with Quayle bowing out of the race early.
Indiana has supplied about 60 percent of the nearly $5 million Lugar has raised for his campaign. That's only half the amount the senator was hoping to raise, but it has been matched with about $2.6 million in federal funds, most of which has gone into television ads and travel costs.
The giant pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. of Indianapolis and its employees have supplied much of Lugar's political money over his career, according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity that suggested Lugar was having difficulty raising funds. Lubbers said that the senator has done poorly at tapping the political action committees that dominate giving in many races. "It's like that old Superman line: Lugar doesn't do deals," his manager said.
The product of a Midwest family where he and his siblings would rise at 5 a.m. to practice their musical instruments (in his case cello and piano) an hour before breakfast, Lugar prides himself on having the self-discipline of a long-distance runner. And his campaign strategy has been built on a simple thesis: that Dole's campaign would falter and, when it did, Lugar would be there to pick up the pieces.
"If Dole does not fall, Lugar does not have a chance," Lubbers said. "Our votes are caught up inside Dole's numbers."
But if Dole's numbers seem to be eroding, the votes may be going to Forbes, a candidate neither Lugar nor anyone else figured would be a major player in the early states. To remain viable, Lubbers said, Lugar must pull at least 15 percent of the GOP vote in New Hampshire and Iowa. That would put the senator in place to be "the designated inheritor of the Dole base," Lubbers said.
Most of Lugar's backers believe that it is a slim reed on which the Lugar campaign now rests and some suggest that Lugar is already out of contention. "He knows he's probably not going to make it," said Bulen, his old political mentor.
But Lugar spokesman Terry Holt argued that the candidate has finally begun to move voters. "The front-runner at least to this point has failed to put the race away. And after $3 million to $4 million worth of negative ads, they are giving us a look."
Lugar's campaign aides are puzzled by the perception in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two key Republican primary states, that their candidate is a moderate. Daniels said that may be because Lugar is "philosophically conservative, but temperamentally moderate" and Lubbers suggests it is because Lugar is more "a classic conservative than an ideological one."
Lubbers maintains that the news media have gotten the campaign all wrong. "We've had trouble getting oxygen from the national TV reporters," he said. For an example, he cited the Jan. 13 television debate sponsored by the Des Moines Register, an event that attracted all nine major GOP candidates.
"It's that continuing phenomena of rewarding the candidates who do the trained seal thing. If you had a sound bite or had something nasty to say you got covered," said Lubbers. "If you acted presidential, you didn't." Most coverage focused on attacks on Forbes's flat tax, an assault Lugar didn't join. The senator was largely ignored in most accounts of the debate. Faced with serious questions about his campaign, Lugar rejects suggestions that he is running for vice president or secretary of state. He maintains he "won't be a good team player." If he fails in his campaign, he will remain in the Senate because it's "a place you really have an opportunity to make a difference. You have access to interesting people, books, every idea in the world. . . ." It is a good fallback position for a politician like Dick Lugar. CAPTION: A LOOK AT:
Richard G. Lugar CHILDHOOD: A fifth generation Hoosier, Lugar was born April 4, 1932, to Marvin and Bertha Green Lugar in Indianapolis, where he worked on his family's farm. Classical music was a passion he shared with his brother, Tom, and sister, Anne, but he was the only sibling enthralled by politics at an early age. EDUCATION: Denison University, B.A., 1954 Oxford University, England, M.A., 1956 (Rhodes scholar) PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: U.S. Senator, 1977 to present Lugar Stock Farm Inc., treasurer and assistant secretary, 1960 to present Mayor, City of Indianapolis, 1968 to 1975 Indianapolis School Board, 1964 to 1967 Thomas L. Green and Co., vice president, 1960 to 1967 Navy, lieutenant junior grade, 1957 to 1960 FAMILY: Married Charlene Smeltzer in 1956, and has four sons (Mark, Robert, John and David) and seven grandchildren. HOT ISSUE: Nuclear proliferation "The proliferation of nuclear material must be considered the greatest threat to the national security of the United States."
"I don't use wedge issues, negative campaigning or cynical pandering, which supposedly excites and moves voter opinion." About This Story
This is the third in a series of stories on the major Republican candidates for president that will look at their careers and philosophies and at how they attempt to address the distrust of the political system shown by many voters. CAPTION: RICHARD G. LUGAR CAPTION: Pages from a resume: Sen. Richard G. Lugar speaks about the post-Cold War world at a foreign policy forum held at the Mayflower Hotel last year. Lugar has said his two-year chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee was "a high point of public service, adventure and discovery." At left, the senator when he was mayor of Indianapolis. CAPTION: Lugar, a runner, prides himself on his self-discipline.