Lugar defeat fits Obama campaign narrative on GOP

The defeat of Sen. Richard G. Lugar in his bid for a seventh term in Indiana has given Democrats new hope of holding on to their narrow majority in the Senate.

The result could also play out in the race for president, fueling the narrative of an Obama campaign running as much against the “tea party"-infused Republican Congress as it is against Mitt Romney.

Within an hour of Richard Mourdock being declared the winner in Indiana’s GOP primary, the White House released a statement from President Obama hailing Lugar’s “distinguished service.”


“While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything, I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done,” Obama said.

He and Lugar worked together during Obama’s brief time in the Senate on nuclear proliferation. Lugar was then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Obama a rookie member.

“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,” Obama added.

Also quick to praise Lugar was longtime colleague Vice President Joe Biden.

“The Senate lost a brilliant strategic mind, a man with absolute integrity. He will be missed,” Biden said in a statement tweeted by his office Tuesday night. The two also spoke by phone, aides said.

On the campaign trail, Biden’s speeches often include a declaration that “this isn’t your father’s Republican Party.” It’s part of a refrain that highlights what the Obama campaign believes is a hard-right turn by the GOP, and its stubborn opposition to every administration proposal.

In his concession statement, Lugar showed no ill will to his Republican foe. He said he hoped Mourdock would ultimately win the general election, and that Romney would take back the White House for the GOP.

He also acknowledged that he was hurt by his support for Obama initiatives such as like the auto industry rescue, the START treaty and both of the president’s Supreme Court nominees. And he made clear his displeasure with the path his party, and the Democrats as well, have taken in recent years.

“Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint,” Lugar said. The outside groups that helped defeat him “have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise,” he added.

“If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don’t succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues,” he said.

Romney issued no statement on Lugar’s defeat. Other Republicans had chosen sides in the primary, and some were quick to rally behind Mourdock, including potential vice-presidential pick Marco Rubio.

It’s unclear whether the Obama campaign will get significant mileage, if any, from using the Lugar loss to tag Romney as the standard bearer for a party that had steered beyond the mainstream. Obama’s own brand as a post-partisan figure has been diminished. But in a fight for all-important swing votes, expect to see them continue to try.