Richard Lugar was considered a mentor and a friend to Barack Obama during their time in the Senate together, but with a tough primary fight looming for the Indianan next year as he seeks a seventh term, it appears that he has decided the last thing he needs is to be considered the president’s “favorite Republican.” With 2012 just around the corner, Lugar has become a frequent critic of the administration as well as a more loyal member of the Republican caucus.
Lugar is the senior Republican in the upper house and an old-school bi-partisan type as well as the Senate’s leading foreign policy “realist.” As Politico notes in an interesting feature on the Obama-Lugar breakup, in the weeks after the 2010 election when the Tea Party insurgency was riding high, Lugar made it clear he wouldn’t truckle to his party’s core constituency. He opposed a ban on earmarks and helped Obama push the START treaty with Russia through the lame duck Congress.
But with a popular Republican challenger seeking to capitalize on the unease about the senator’s establishment ways among the party’s grass roots, Lugar is now highlighting disagreements with his former Senate pal and even denying that they were ever close. Lugar blasted the president for not consulting with Congress over the conflict in Libya and even withdrew his co-sponsorship of the “Dream Act” because of his anger at Obama’s decision to engage hyper-partisan demagoguery on immigration. Even more interesting is the fact that Lugar voted with fellow Republicans 82 percent of the time in the previous Congress. This year the number is 97 percent.
Lugar has obviously come a long way since he actually served as sounding board on foreign policy issues for Obama prior to the Democrat’s presidential debate with John McCain (though he says he voted for the Republican) in 2008. But though Lugar now claims all the talk about his friendship with the president was an exaggeration, it’s more likely that his upcoming primary clash with Indiana state Treasure Richard Mourdock is what has concentrated his mind.
Democrats, who face an uphill challenge to hold onto to their slender majority in the Senate next year, are openly rooting for Mourdock to defeat. But just as Mourdock is not Christine O’Donnell, neither is red state Indiana comparable to blue Delaware. A Lugar primary loss would not necessarily translate into a November gain for the Democrats.
The Lugar re-election campaign will be an interesting test of the current state of the Republican Party as well as of how red Indiana really is. Though we can expect to hear a lot about how outrageous it is that GOP voters would even consider dumping a venerable institution like Lugar, after 35 years of his go-along-to-get-along style, it is hardly surprising that party activists yearn for a more forthright advocate for their beliefs.