Primary Election Defeat for Senator Richard Lugar
Although he was not considered to be one of Israel’s most outspoken supporters on Capitol Hill the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar in the recent primary election has left many among the pro-Israel lobbyists concerned that there may be losing some key supporters in Congress.
More after the jump.
After 35 years in office the defeat comes as somewhat of a shock for the Republican senator. In that time Lugar has developed a reputation for independent thinking and many regard his exit as a door closing on that singular form of politics.
During his time in office, and in his capacity as the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar consistently supported the campaign for defence assistance for Israel. It is also worth noting that, during the 1980s, he led the calls for freedom for Soviet Jews.
Maverick Brand of Politics
His maverick brand of politics meant that he had divided loyalties with regard to Middle East policy. Although he supported the pro-Israel stance he also pursued a more proactive approach to the brokering of peace in the Middle East by the US. His views on this issue stood at odds with many among the pro-Israel lobby. He was also in favour of cautious progress with sanctions on Iran.
Tea Party Candidate
With the prospect of Lugar being removed by a Tea Party candidate the pro Israel groups came to his aid with financial backing, giving his campaign the logistical a monetary support he requested. Unfortunately it was not enough to carry the campaign. The reasons that the Israel advocates offered for extending their support to Luger were that he was seen as the type of lawmaker who could benefit the cause and that his ability to ‘reach across the aisle’ meant that he was at least able to listen to both sides of the argument.
Loss for Foreign Policy
Counterterrorism consultant Mike Kraft, who, during the 70s and 80s, was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offers a commonly held opinion on Luger. He says “Lugar wasn’t actively pro-Israel, but he wasn’t anti either.” He considers the senators defeat a loss, not just for the pro-Israel group, but on foreign policy in general. He added, “but generally losing a good, balanced, thoughtful guy on foreign policy is a real tragedy." Kraft considers the loss a blow to the system as a whole. He added, "It weakens the American political system.”
Support from NORPAC
New Jersey based pro-Israel action group, NORPAC , contributed $20,000 to Lugar’s campaign, the most sizable donation made to any individual candidate in this cycle of elections. The reasons they outlined were because Lugar had come to them and requested the support. Ben Chouake, the group’s president explained, “We sent extra money to Lugar because he called and asked.”
Referring to the 80yo candidate’s reputation Chouake accepted that he was not the most pro-Israel congressman, but had the kind of integrity which meant that he could not be easily influenced in other directions. He stated of the support, “Sometimes you have to back someone because of who a person is.” During the campaign Lugar also received financial backing from supporters of Israel at events in New York and Indiana.
Hard Working and Diplomatic
There is no doubt that Lugar also had a reputation for being a very industrious politician and even at his age he was not the kind of candidate that required an invitation to get off the sofa and into the office. Over the course of his career he had particularly developed a reputation for managing to get Republicans and Democrats to work together.
Defeat in the end was inevitable and the result in the May 8th primary was by a considerable margin. Lugar lost the seat to Indiana’s state treasurer Richard Mourdock by a resounding 61%-39%. Consequently Mourdock will stand against Republican Joe Donnelly in the general election.
Mourdock offers a much harder line and the premise of his campaign was an opposition to compromise. During a Fox News interview Mourdock summarised his point of view by stating, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
Location May Have Been an Issue
There are those who think that the defeat was a direct result of Lugar’s vulnerability caused by where he has chosen to live. The senator had chosen not to remain in his home for the past three decades. It is this point which ultimately may have ultimately contributed to his political demise. Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, summarised this issue by stating, “No matter how long you've been in office, politics starts at home — and maybe it would be a good idea to have a home in the state.”