Of Dick Lugar, the Tea Party and Long Careers:
It’s too easy to lose touch. And most do long before Dick Lugar did. He made history that will be hard to match. He served 36 years, twice as long as any other Senator in Indiana history. He has a number of important legislative accomplishments to his name.
I was raised in Indiana–13 years old the night he won an upset victory in the race for Mayor of Indianapolis in 1967. He was 35 at the time.
In the Watergate year of 1974 he ran against Birch Bayh (father of Evan) and lost by 75,000 votes, in part because he was known as “Richard Nixon’s favorite Mayor.” It is ironic that he lost his last race for U.S. Senate because he was known as “Barack Obama’s favorite Senator.”
Lugar easily defeated the hapless Vance Hartke in 1976 by a landslide. He had a real race in the recession year of 1982, but won by a comfortable margin. It was the last competitive contest he ever had. Until 2012.
What happened? He lost touch. The ground in Indiana shifted under Lugar’s nose and he didn’t notice; the complexion of rank and file primary voters changed and he didn’t notice. (It also happened to New York’s Jacob Javits in 1980) And since he’d not had a worthy opponent in 30 years, he’d forgotten how to campaign or talk in the crisp, concise fashion now required of public figures.
And there were some self-inflicted wounds. Hoosiers expect their Senators to have some tie to the state. Turns out Lugar had sold his Indiana home long ago. Ouch. And doing the rudimentary things that Senators need to do…like staying in touch with party chairman…like visiting the state every couple weeks…like showing up at certain annual events where it is important to be seen and heard…seemed to be beneath him. It hurt.
Did the tea partiers beat him? They deserve some credit. But the tea party also had a little help from Dick Lugar. I am going to miss him. I wish he’d had a more graceful exit from the stage.
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