Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) didn't want to say on Tuesday whether the Tea Party was a good thing for the Republican Party, deferring that answer until after his May 8 primary showdown with a Tea Party-backed challenger.
Asked first by reporters on Capitol Hill if his unexpectedly tough race against Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock made him a "casualty of the Tea Party," Lugar said no.
"I'm not looking at myself as a casualty," Lugar said. "'Survivor' is the correct word, quite healthy, and I believe we're going to win two weeks from now."
He added that "some elements of the Tea Party have opposed me, but not the Hamilton County Tea Party and not several other tea parties, so let's make clear this is not a monolithic movement in Indiana."
The veteran senator also was not ready to say that the GOP benefited from the movement. "I'll wait and see how things are going," he said -- and a reporter added, "Two weeks."
Lugar faces a surprisingly close race, leading Mourdock by just seven percentage points in one recent poll, and has had to spend millions against him. National Tea Party organizations such as FreedomWorks have come out for Mourdock, as well as conservative stalwarts such as the Club for Growth and the National Rifle Association.
Lugar's equivocation on the Tea Party may not help. With the Republican presidential nominee all but assured, a relatively low turnout in the primary is possible -- exactly the sort of situation that allows smaller, more motivated groups like the Tea Party to have an outsized impact.