WASHINGTON -- Republican Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar may be confident that "America's economy is still strong," but his GOP primary opponent is so certain Lugar is wrong that he sold all his stocks more than a week ago.
Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who also vehemently opposed Lugar's vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, told The Huffington Post that the signs of economic slowdown -- and perhaps catastrophe -- were so clear to him that he unloaded his entire portfolio as Congress was coming down to the wire in the debt-limit standoff.
"I spend two hours every morning looking at market indicators," said Mourdock, arguing that such attention to the economy by himself and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) before the 2008 meltdown is what allowed them to position the state to better weather the downturn.
When Congress was deadlocked over raising the nation's borrowing cap -- the failure of which Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had warned could cause a devastating default -- the Indiana treasurer liked the overall picture so little he bailed out his own money.
"Ten days ago, I sold all my stock," Mourdock said.
The Senate agreed to raise the borrowing limit just in time, on Aug. 2, with Lugar among 76 senators who voted in favor of doing so. Lugar defended his vote saying, "Though the bill isn't everything we wanted, it's still a victory for conservatives over President Obama's out-of-control spending and big government policies."
But his "aye" brought fierce attacks from the right, with many conservatives blasting the vote and supporting Mourdock.
Lugar explained his position and tried to reassure voters Tuesday after the country's bond rating was downgraded by the ratings agency Standard & Poor's, leading to a steep drop in the stock market.
"The American economy is still strong," Lugar said, adding voters should know "that we're making progress although it's very slow in terms of job creation, and that we still have a dollar that is the world currency and we are still selling bonds to everybody all over the world despite the S&P downgrade."
A spokesman for Lugar, David Willkie, explained that Lugar was talking about the broader U.S. free market economy, not the momentary grim outlook. "There are certainly stresses in the economy," Willkie said.
But Mourdock -- and even Democrats -- pounced on the remarks, saying they showed Lugar to be out of touch.
"He has spent too much time in Washington, D.C., and not enough in Washington, Ind.," said Mourdock, calling Lugar's economic assessment "revealing," and arguing that Hoosiers no longer consider Lugar conservative.
"That's not how he's perceived in Indiana at all," Mourdock said. "Dick Lugar is not the guy we sent [to the Senate] 35 years ago."
Democrats seized on Lugar's remarks because they think they have a better chance running conservative Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly against Mourdock in the Senate race.
But Democrats' hopes likely will have less impact on the contest than Lugar's debt-ceiling vote. And though Mourdock unloaded his own stocks, he argues that there was no reason for the United States to default on its debts, and that he and others saw the dire warnings as "hyperbole."
He said the nation has plenty of income to meet its key obligations.
"The only way the United States was going to default was if President Obama didn't pay the bills," Mourdock said.
He also noted that the ratings downgrade "happened anyway," which he argued was due to not just the debt-ceiling debate but to Washington's spending habits.
Mourdock recently called either for the president to fire Geithner or the Senate to withdraw its consent for his nomination. Lugar supporters noted that the second option is not constitutional.
Willkie suggested Mourdock's idea to have the Senate un-confirm Geithner shows Mourdock is the one who's not entirely grounded in legislative reality.
"We don't play 'Model UN' with the United States economy," Willkie said.
The Club for Growth, which opposes Lugar's positions, recently did a poll that found Mourdock and Lugar in a dead heat, but Willkie said the campaign's own polling has Lugar up 14 points.