What Richard Lugar's loss in Indiana's Republican primary race for U.S. Senate yesterday means for the general election and the presidential race is still not yet certain. But two things are clear:
1. Far more distinctive opposing candidates than in past senatorial elections will energize Indiana voters on both sides of the aisle.
2. The hope that our two parties will find a mutual path to resolving our country's most pressing matters seems more remote.
This shocking turn of events was unthinkable for almost all of Lugar's 36-year career in the U.S. Senate. Mark Meissner, an adjunct here at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), has deep roots in Indiana politics and has provided a thoughtful analysis in "Why Lugar Lost." Let's consider the implications of his loss.
Some have suggested that when Lugar lost on Tuesday night, there were two massive celebrations: one at the headquarters of Lugar's Tea Party-supported primary opponent Richard Mourdock, and one inside the offices of the Indiana Democratic Party. These individuals' opinion is that Lugar's defeat to a Tea Party-supported candidate puts a once-safe U.S. Senate seat in play for the Democrats. There is little doubt that Democrats will be energized by the examples of Republican Senate primaries in Delaware and Nevada in 2010, hoping that once again Tea Party influence will have resulted in Republicans nominating the one candidate the Democrats can beat.
My own view is that Republicans have learned painful lessons from these races, but the fact remains that the general election for Indiana's Senate seat will be far more competitive than in the past.
Lugar has been regarded by many as a true statesman -- a class act with a long history of working across the aisle to do what he thought was best for the nation. For many, Lugar has lived the "Country First" slogan that so many Tea Party members espouse. Meissner sites how "Lugar made efforts in Washington to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. Lugar worked with then-Senator Obama to pass the Lugar-Obama Proliferation and Threat Reduction Initiative, served as honorary co-chair of the Obama-Biden inauguration, and supported liberal Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen."
While I could vigorously dispute some of Lugar's actions while applauding others, I am passionately interested in breaking the gridlock to address our nation's most pressing challenges. As Meissner outlines, many things contributed to Lugar's lost. It would be troubling if a significant factor was Lugar's willingness to seek common ground with the other party.
"Country First" is a good slogan. Our nation cannot survive long unless we voters and elected officials alike truly embrace it as our rallying cry.
Mark R. Kennedy leads The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).