The defeat of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar has political tongues wagging all over the nation. Lugar was a major force in the U.S. Senate. He was well liked by colleagues and, ironically, made an early political name for himself as mayor of Indianapolis, where he became known as a strong proponent of the federal government giving power back to cities.
In light of his substantial loss in a GOP primary to State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, Lugar has an opinion as to the loss and what it means, as does his opponent -- as does every Republican and Democratic pundit in America.
Lugar, who was thought of as a rock solid conservative in the days of Ronald Reagan, is clearly stunned that he has somehow been transported in time to a point at which many of his votes and actions had a significant number of Indiana voters believing that he was not conservative enough to continue representing them. He issued a pointed letter following his defeat, blaming increasing partisanship across the nation for his loss. Votes that he felt were necessary for the nation that have since become unpopular with many conservatives doomed his re-election, according to Lugar.
Having been in those hotel suites when an incumbent U.S. Senator loses, I can say without hesitation that no matter how far Lugar got off course, I feel for him. Such a scene is much like the immediate family holding a wake -- except in the world of U.S. Senators, death would be greeted with less grief. Even those who worked to defeat him should find this man and thank him for his service in the Senate. Regardless of his more recent votes, Sen. Lugar often supplied the critical swing vote in promoting endless conservative and Republican agendas over many decades of service.
Lugar's opponent made it clear that his victory shows that the tea party is alive and well. He is flat out ... right. What most pundits don't get is that the tea party is, and always was, less a party and more a state of mind. And the image that many in the media have of people dressed in Uncle Sam costumes marching down Main Street, U.S.A. as being representative of the tea party is silly. For an incumbent U.S. Senator with such huge seniority to lose in a Republican primary in a state known for reasonable and well educated voters, it takes more than the furor of a few activists -- it takes, as even some Democrats might say, a village.
Democrats are highlighting Lugar's defeat as huge evidence of the "extremist nature" of the GOP this year. And some longtime Republican leaders are likely quietly bemoaning the fact that "the nuts" have taken over their party. If so, they are grossly out of touch with the Republican constituency.
Add up the total votes for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum when both were competitive this year, and it will demonstrate that the very conservative vote among Republicans is more than alive and well.
And the thought that conservatives are motivated in 2012, but only in primary elections, will be proven incorrect when November rolls around. I predict that Mitt Romney's onetime opponents, such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich, will in coming days end their tepid endorsements of Romney and will come out in full force for him.
The real lesson in the Lugar defeat is one of retail politics. Many voters, not just Republicans, are sick of Washington royalty. They perceive many of their Republican leaders as being too caught up in the intricacies and luxuries of the "inside the beltway world" to understand the hell they are going through trying to pay outrageous taxes, keep their homes and businesses going, and just plain making ends meet.
In an article in Politico, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss was quoted as saying, "I know I'll have an opponent in 2014." I respectfully disagree. Chambliss has a strong conservative voting record and is his state's senior U.S. Senator. And he has the good fortune of serving with a very popular and extremely active junior Republican senator, Johnny Isakson.
Chambliss and other in his party don't have to expect opposition as long as they acknowledge their constituents mean business, and with regard to that business, they pound their local pavement to prove that they realize the business that they are in is retail.
Matt Towery heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. Follow him on Twitter @matttowery.
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