The state of Indiana has lost a statesman today. Voters went to the polls to unseat incumbent Senator Dick Lugar, who has served in the Senate since 1977, in a low-turnout primary where fewer than 20 percent of eligible voters participated. Lugar was the mayor of Indianapolis prior to his election to the Senate. His service to Indiana is unquestioned, earning him the respect of Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, but that goodwill was not enough to prevent a 22-point loss to a far-right Tea Party challenger.
Lugar’s popularity was so immense that six years ago Democrats did not even bother fielding a challenger in a wave election where the party won control of the U.S. House and Senate. Three of those House seats that Democrats won came from Indiana. Among them was Representative Joe Donnelly, who today won the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in November against the man that defeated Lugar, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
The blowout loss of a high-profile man like Lugar without so much as a scandal – essentially the face of the Republican Party in Indiana for three decades – signifies a remarkable shift to the right among Indiana Republican voters. Lugar is a man of principle, not ideology. Republicans have said today loud and clear that they prefer purity over conviction. It is a rejection of civility and compromise. Mourdock has said that there is “too much” bipartisanship in Washington and has proudly embraced out-of-state special interests. His entire campaign has been vaulted by super PACs that can receive unlimited amounts of money from corporations.
Mourdock’s victory sends a signal to other Republicans in Congress – who are already intransigent enough – that working with the other party on anything is an offense worthy of a primary challenge. This follows a pattern that developed in 2010 where far-right Tea Party candidates defeated more mainstream Republican candidates in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware and Nevada. General election voters punished the GOP for lurching too far to the right. They lost each of those races in 2010. Indiana could be the latest state where the Tea Party costs the GOP a Senate seat.