DOUG ROSS: Tea Party wasn't only reason Lugar lost

2012-05-08T20:30:00Z DOUG ROSS: Tea Party wasn't only reason Lugar lostBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

For months now, I've been calling the U.S. Senate race a battle for the heart and soul of the Indiana Republican Party. Now I'm not so sure we've seen the true picture.

Yes, I hoped U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar would win. I supported The Times Editorial Board's endorsement of him. But I can support my new hypothesis about this race being unique and not a true indication of Republicans' overall mood.

Lugar's age and time in office counted against him. That became evident in the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll results I examined last week.

Richard Mourdock's supporters weren't so much pro-Mourdock as anti-Lugar. They didn't have much to say in favor of their candidate except that he wasn't Lugar.

And what had Lugar done wrong? That's what this election was really about, I think.

Lugar is finishing his sixth term in office. And with Senate terms at six years, that's a long time to remain in office. Anti-incumbent fever is gripping the nation, and Lugar was tossed as a result.

It's worth noting that Congress has an approval rating so low I wouldn't say it's in the basement, it's more like the subbasement. And after all these years, it's hard not to know Lugar is an incumbent.

But as for the heart and soul of the party, keep looking at those poll results.

Most Republicans, 54 percent, support the DREAM Act that would give children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Lugar was for this; Mourdock was strongly against this. So much for that criterion. Also, where were the Hispanics on Tuesday? Not voting for Lugar, apparently.

It's hard to argue against nuclear disarmament, too, but some do. President Barack Obama's statement Tuesday night was classy: "Senator Lugar comes from a tradition of strong, bipartisan leadership on national security that helped us prevail in the Cold War and sustain American leadership ever since."

Remember, too, that Lugar hasn't had to campaign hard in recent elections. The Democrats didn't even put up a candidate against him in 2006, the last time he ran. Not since 1982, when he defeated Floyd Fithian 54 percent to 46 percent, has he failed to achieve at least two-thirds of the vote. His campaign apparatus atrophied, and it showed.

Finally, the extremely low turnout Tuesday worked against Lugar. People who oppose something or someone are more likely to express their opinion — in this case, by voting — than are supporters. Despite all the calls Lugar's supporters made, he failed to mobilize his base.

Had there been a real choice in the presidential race by the time Hoosiers voted, that would have made a difference and perhaps would have been a better indication of Republicans' true sentiment.

But what we really need so we can gauge Republican's sentiments is some solid exit polling. It has been a long time since there was any good exit polling in Indiana. Until then, we're all just trying to read the tea leaves and guess at what the results mean.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or doug.ross@nwi.com. Follow him on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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