When Richard Lugar, the mayor of Indianapolis, first ran for the Senate, against Democratic incumbent Birch Bayh in 1974, a big part of his problem was that he was a partisan Republican.
In fairness, there was nothing wrong with being a partisan Republican in good GOP years … in, say, 1972, when President Richard Nixon was on his way to a landslide re-election and Lugar was the keynote speaker at the GOP national convention.
But it became a problem in 1974, a decidedly anti-Republican year, in the midst of the Watergate election cycle. And being known as “Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor” didn’t help either. He lost by 75,000 votes.
Fast forward 38 years to 2012. If Lugar’s problem in his first race was that he was too Republican, one of the problems in what is shaping up as his last race is that he may not be Republican enough. Or, at least that’s how his opponent in Tuesday’s primary, two-term state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and Tea Party conservatives see it. According to them, he’s “Barack Obama’s favorite Republican.”
Lugar came to the Senate in 1977 and has been re-elected five times. He has served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and is widely respected for his work on behalf of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. In the 1980s he fought behind the scenes against the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines and apartheid in South Africa. He’s conservative, though lately not nearly as much; his “scorecard” by the American Conservative Union, regularly in the 80 or 90 percent range, has fallen into the 60’s the past five years. He has never shied away from working with Democrats, and counted Obama and Joe Biden as his friends when they all served together in the Senate.
But he remained highly popular at home; he hasn’t fallen below 67 percent of the vote since 1982, and six years ago, Democrats didn’t even put up a candidate against him. And until now, he’s never faced a primary challenge for his seat.
Another way of looking at it is that he hasn’t had to fight for his seat in years.
But the Republican Party is in a period of change, especially so since Obama’s ascension to the presidency. The GOP made historic gains in the House in 2010, ousting dozens of Democratic incumbents. But some establishment Republicans, deemed too moderate, paid the price as well; think Robert Bennett in Utah and Mike Castle in Delaware. And the right’s number one target for 2012 was Lugar. Outside groups have spent more than $2 million to defeat him.
But to blame Lugar’s expected demise in Tuesday’s primary solely on the Tea Party, or on Mourdock’s appeal, misses the point. Much of Lugar’s problems were self-inflicted.
First, he’s 80 years old. There’s not much he can do about that, but it’s a fact of life. Also, he’s been in the Senate for 36 years — longer than any Hoosier in history — and to some, it is time for him to go. Lugar didn’t help his cause when it was revealed that he no longer has a residence in Indiana, that when he would come back to the state he would stay in an Indianapolis hotel (and for a long time would bill taxpayers for his stays; he’s since reimbursed the government for that). There was even some question about whether he could even vote for himself; he finally registered at a farm his family owns.
And faced with serious opposition, Lugar just didn’t seem to know how to deal with it. Unlike Arizona’s John McCain in 2010 and Utah’s Orrin Hatch this year — who preempted conservative opposition by moving further to the right — Lugar initially dismissed conservative complaints as little more than an irritant. By the time he realized he was in trouble, he never made the case for a seventh term. Instead, he decided to run negative ads against Mourdock — a tactic seemingly way out of character for the mild-mannered Lugar. Both approaches failed.
One indication the party establishment seems to realize the depth of Lugar’s troubles is that there have been fewer and fewer outward public criticisms of Mourdock. After all, the GOP is going to need to unite behind the primary winner if they are to hold the seat in November against Rep. Joe Donnelly, one of the more conservative Democrats in the House. And that primary winner is looking more and more like Mourdock.
Dick Lugar will be remembered as one of the most respected and revered senators of the past half-century. But, unless something dramatic changes in the next 24-48 hours, that seems likely to come to an end on Tuesday.
Wisconsin Democrats to decide. As everyone knows, Gov. Scott Walker (R) faces a recall election on June 5, retribution from Democrats and labor unions angered by his efforts to limit collective bargaining for public workers.
But first, Democrats are going to have to come up with an opponent in the May 8 primary. While four candidates are running, the top two are Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee (and a former House member) who lost to Walker in the 2010 election, and Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County (Madison) Executive, who is being backed by the very unions that shepherded the recall against Walker.
(The other Democrats: Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout.)
For the longest time, Democrats feared that a Barrett-Falk slugfest would siphon off money that should be going to the effort to defeat Walker. But the battle has been somewhat civil. And not particularly close. Barrett has been endorsed by a virtual who’s who in state politics and has a sizable lead in every poll. But his policies as mayor, where he has cut city employees’ health and pension benefits, has angered labor, and they see Falk as a far more reliable ally. For her part, Falk has run statewide twice, both unsuccessfully. In 2002 she lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Jim Doyle. In 2006 she defeated the incumbent attorney general in the primary but narrowly lost the general election to a Republican.
Walker has raised an astounding $13 million to stave off the recall. But organized labor, stung by the governor’s policies, will not suffer for money as June 5 approaches. They’ve already shown their prowess, a big reason why Walker’s opponents came up with more than 900,000 signatures for the recall.
Republicans love Walker. Democrats despise him. As intense as the feelings are now, it’s only going to escalate in the next four weeks.
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.
Top 5 Running Mates. Last week I offered a subjective list of the top five running mates of the last half-century. Nobody seems to disagree with my top pick, Lyndon Johnson in 1960, but there were other opinions as well. Harry Kennedy of Ann Arbor, Mich., insists that Sarah Palin (R-2008) was an “excellent choice” because “she fired up Republicans who would otherwise have sat out John McCain” because of “his failure to offer a genuine alternative” to Barack Obama.
Whitney Court, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, agrees. In her dissertation, she argues, “McCain actually got more conservatives to come out and vote because of Palin. He lost by less than he would have without Palin.” And what about that disastrous interview with Katie Couric? “Although she ran into trouble in news interviews about her knowledge of foreign policy,” Court says, “social conservatives liked that she stayed true to her convictions and walked the walk.”
Gary Dolan of London, England wishes Republicans in 1996 would have rejected both Jack Kemp, who was Bob Dole’s running mate, and Dole as well. “Not only did could neither stand the other, but both were ridiculously past their primes.”
Mark Greenbaum of Washington, D.C., he of the victorious team that won the “political pursuit” contest (also in last week’s column), had this:
“Cheney was definitely a nice pick, but to me it smacked of over-confidence and showed they thought they were going to win and Cheney was just there for governance. But LBJ is definitely first: he covered age, experience, geography, and even plain optics. In terms of the worst pick, Lieberman might be number one. He was just uninspiring, which was a problem when Al Snore is your candidate.”
Michael Friedman of NYC also sent in his misgivings about Joe Lieberman as the Democrats’ 2000 VP pick: “All Gore had to do was pick [Fla. Sen.] Bob Graham as his running mate and he would have won Florida and thus the election.”
And a correction. In listing Walter Mondale (D-1976) at #3, I wrote that Jimmy Carter “got someone who came to the table with ten years’ experience in the Senate.” David Kuhn of Bethesda, Md., reminds us (well, me) that Mondale had been in the Senate 12 years, not ten, having been appointed in 1964 to replace Vice President-elect Hubert Humphrey, and then elected to the job in ’66.
Red it and weep. Two weeks ago (see April 23 Junkie) we entertained Rep. Allen West’s (R-Fla.) suggestion, literal or otherwise, that there were some 78 to 81 Communists in the current Congress, which led to the discussion about there had ever been a member of Congress who was a (former or otherwise) card-carrying Communist. That prompted this note from Michael Kelly of Flint, Mich., who advised, “don’t forget Vito Marcantonio of N.Y.”:
“Marcantonio was first elected to Congress as a Republican in 1934, back when the GOP had lots of very liberal members (especially in NYC, such as Fiorello LaGuardia). Marcantonio was part of LaGuardia’s leftwing Republican movement in the 30’s and 40’s.
Marcantonio lost his GOP congressional seat after 1 term then switched to the American Labor Party and won a House seat in 1938 as an ALP candidate and held it for 6 terms. He was defeated by a anti-Communist Democrat after voting against the Korean War.
There are plenty who believed Marcantonio to be a Communist and he certainly participated in Communist-front groups. Of course, as an old George Romney Republican myself, I would be considered a near-Commie by today’s GOP.”
I actually thought of Marcantonio when writing the column. But while he was accused of Communist sympathies, I have never seen anything to suggest he was anything more than, well, a leftwinger.
Actually, during his four successful campaigns from 1938 thru 1944, in addition to the ALP nomination, he was also the nominee of the Republican Party — which is pretty interesting. (He had also obtained the Democratic nomination in 1942 and 1944.) In 1946, en route to another re-election victory, he lost the GOP primary but narrowly won the Democratic nomination. Two years later, he won again but only with the ALP ballot position.
I don’t know which specific Korean War vote you are referring to, but it was clear that both of New York’s major parties wanted Marcantonio gone. James Donovan, a Democratic former state senator also running on the GOP line, won a landslide victory over Marcantonio in 1950.
And speaking of Marcantonio and the American Labor Party — which backed Henry Wallace’s third-party presidential bid in 1948 — Bob Zecker of Fair Lawn, N.J. (and currently residing in Meadow Green, Nova Scotia) notes that the ALP “allowed ex-Socialists and ex-Communists (Jews, Italians, others) in NYC to pull the lever for something other than a capitalist party, and Marcantonio courted and received votes from many card-carrying ‘you-know-whos.'”
OK, so where else but in Political Junkie can you read about Vito Marcantonio to your heart’s content?
Here she comes. And last week’s column (see April 30 Junkie) discussed former Miss Americas. I was asked whether any ran for office or were married to politicians. I said I could only think of Bess Myerson (Miss America 1945), who sought the Democratic nomination for the Senate from New York in 1980, and Phyllis George (M.A. 1971), who later married John Y. Brown Jr., elected governor of Kentucky in 1979.
Both Tom Phillips of Austin, Texas and Ed Palmer of Garland, Texas remembered Donna Axum, Miss America 1964, whose second marriage was to Gus Mutscher, later the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from 1963 until his conviction in the Sharpstown bank stock fraud scandal. Mutscher’s conviction was later overturned but so was his marriage; he and Donna were divorced after his acquittal.
And I confess, apropos of absolutely nothing, I can’t get over this incredible video involving a random question to Miss Teen South Carolina. It’s one of those things that you watch without blinking.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR’s call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week focused on the Gingrich withdrawal, the perils of Dick Lugar, and the upcoming Wisconsin recall primary. With guest host Jennifer Ludden, we also looked at two more VP hopefuls, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie, with Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert and Newark Star Ledger’s Paul Mulshine.
Podcast. There’s also a new episode of our weekly podcast, “It’s All Politics,” up every Thursday. It’s hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me.
And Don’t Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America’s favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Monday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week’s contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!
Previous winner: David Lam of Las Vegas, Nev.
About that cocktail from Idaho. Last week’s column revealed the special ingredients of that drink Michael the bartender from the Modern Hotel & Bar in Boise concocted, dubbed “The Political Junkie.” Lots of notes of appreciation for the recipe, but Sandy Moran of Santa Rosa, Calif., wants to know if the column’s name should be changed to the “Political Drunkie.”
ON THE CALENDAR:
May 8 — Primaries in Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia. GOP Senate primary to watch: incumbent Dick Lugar vs. challenger Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Also: Wisconsin Democratic gov. recall primary.
May 15 — Primaries in Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon.
May 18 — Filing deadline in Washington State. Just in case lame duck Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is thinking about it.
May 22 — Primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky.
May 29 — Texas primary.
June 5 –Wisconsin gov. recall election. Also: primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.
June 12 — Special election in Arizona’s 8th CD to succeed Gabrielle Giffords (D), who resigned. Also: congressional primaries in Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia.
June 26 — Congressional primaries in Colorado, New York, Oklahoma and Utah.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
******* Don’t Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in political history: Rep. Stewart McKinney, a moderate Connecticut Republican often at odds with the Reagan Administration over the budget and the plight of the homeless, dies at age 56. He had AIDS, the first member of Congress to succumb to that disease (May 7, 1987).
First elected in 1970 to succeed Senate candidate Lowell Weicker (R), McKinney spent much of his career working across the aisle, often to the consternation of conservatives. But it never hurt him at the ballot box. He also had a history of health problems, suffering two heart attacks while in his 40s and undergoing coronary bypass surgery in 1979. He will be succeeded in an August special election by state Rep. Chris Shays (R).
Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: email@example.com