Indiana’s State Treasurer, Richard Mourdock, has announced his intention to seek the Republican Senate nomination in 2012. Lugar now has his primary challenger, and in Mourdock he has someone who has been elected statewide and seems to have substantial support in the state party for his challenge. I don’t know if Mourdock can prevent Lugar’s re-nomination, but Lugar’s chances of returning to the Senate after the 2012 election don’t seem nearly as good as they did when his likely opponent was a more obscure state senator. On the whole, I don’t see a problem with Mourdock’s challenge. It seems perfectly healthy and appropriate for a primary challenge against someone who has been in Congress for 35 years. Mourdock is properly holding Lugar accountable for his support for the TARP. Indiana is a reasonably safe seat for Republicans with or without Lugar, so there isn’t that much danger for the GOP in replacing Lugar.
There is some merit to the charge that Lugar has moved left in recent years. Lugar’s lifetime ACU rating is 77, which isn’t terrible, but it’s a lot lower than one would expect from a Republican member of Congress in Indiana. By comparison, the ousted Utah incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett had a lifetime rating of 83. Even after we take into account that the ACU scored Lugar’s support for New START as a negative, his rating for the last two years has been below that lifetime rating.
One thing I would recommend to Mourdock is that he stop trying to pretend that he understands arms control better than Lugar. He doesn’t. It has never made sense to me why so many Republicans want to make opposition to this treaty into a litmus test, but it makes absolutely no sense to try to make Lugar’s support for the treaty into a significant issue in the primary. This is one of Lugar’s specialties, and it’s something that he takes very seriously. Lugar will be able to bat down Mourdock’s rehashed distortions without even trying, and by trying to demagogue on arms control Mourdock will simply expose himself to ridicule. Mourdock will only weaken his case for nomination if he tries to go up against Lugar on one of his strengths.