Tea Party Has Indiana's Sen. Lugar on the Ropes

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget the White House -- the eyes of the political world will be on an Indiana primary Tuesday where longtime Republican Sen. Richard Lugar is facing a tough fight against state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

The gloves are off as 80-year-old Lugar seeks to win a seventh term on Capitol Hill. Critics have labeled him a moderate, citing a record of questionable votes, which include supporting President Obama's stimulus bill and his picks for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lugar, however, has brushed aside such criticism.

"Political opponents understand that saying someone's a moderate, somebody's a Republican in name only -- a RINO -- and all those various other terms hang on. I had the highest voting record percentage of support of Ronald Reagan for eight years of any Republican in the Senate -- any of them," the Indiana lawmaker said.

Mourdock: Lugar 'Out of Touch'

Meanwhile, Mourdock, a geologist by trade with a Sarah Palin endorsement, is positioning himself as the more conservative challenger.

"This race is for the heart and soul of the Republican Party in the United States Senate," Mourdock said.

Mourdock's campaign says Lugar is out of touch with the people of Indiana, pointing out that the senator doesn't even live in the state but claims residency because of a longtime family property.

"He hasn't lived in this state in 35 years, fought a lawsuit to say to the people of Indiana, 'You can't make me live in Indiana.' And when he sent that message he really sent that idea that he really is out of touch with folks here," Mourdock charged.

Mourdock's challenge is to get "in" touch with those folks since he has a name ID problem.
 
"I really don't know much about that guy. I mean Lugar's been here for 35 years. I'm still with him," one Indiana resident said.

"I don't really know what he stands for and what he can do any differently," another resident said.

Lugar hasn't faced this kind of fight for decades. Now, he's coming out swinging, telling CBN News that Mourdock is in over his head.

"My opponent does not have the qualifications to be a senator because he simply has not done the homework that's required to be effective whether it be on the jobs issue, the economics issues, the international issues -- whatever they may be," Lugar said. "This takes time and effort."

When you've been a senator for as long as Lugar has, one thing you have is connections. You also have a lot of organization.

Tea Party Levels the Field

But Mourdock also has an organized campaign that's getting some major help from one national Tea Party group.

The group, Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, has been working for a year and half to defeat Lugar. The groups is connected to a national Tea Party organization called FreedomWorks, which would love to show Lugar the door.

"We're going to win the race, that simple," Greg Fettig, co-chair of Hoosiers for Conservative Senate, said.

Fettig told CBN News that a Lugar defeat would send a huge message.

"When a citizenry rises up to fight back against overwhelming odds, against the establishment, and we beat one and not just anyone but Sen. Lugar -- an icon of Washington elitism -- we knock him off and people watch," Fettig said.

Lugar is well aware that Tea Party and conservative groups are spending millions of dollars against him.

"Indiana has become, unfortunately, either the battleground or the playground, depending on how you look at it, for outside people who want to prove they have clout," Lugar said.

A Tea Party Divided?

Not all Indiana Tea Party members support Mourdock, something that's led to some party squabbles.

"To make the statement that Richard Mourdock is necessarily the Tea Party candidate if half of the Tea Parties didn't endorse anybody, that's kind of a disclaimer I think," Chuck Ford, who heads the Tea Party of Hamilton County, told CBN News.

Mourdock probably summed it up best when he said, "I know that no matter what happens, the sun is still going to come up in the morning because this race isn't really under my control nor Senator Lugar's. It's under God's control."

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.