This is not the Dick Lugar the Journal & Courier’s Dave Bangert thought he knew, but it’s the Dick Lugar we’re all seeing on full display ever since Richard Mourdock emerged as a primary challenger (and most particularly in recent weeks as Lugar’s once-commanding lead in polling has evaporated into a five-point deficit).
Dick Lugar is a desperate man who appears willing to say anything, and do anything, to get reelected.
And it all still feels so unLugar-like.
Anyone who finds this “unLugar-like” doesn’t know much about Dick Lugar. This sort of nastiness was the hallmark of some of Lugar’s earlier campaigns (see, for example, his losing campaign for Senate against Birch Bayh in 1974).
That we have not seen this behavior from him or his staff in recent times is a reflection of Lugar’s lack of serious opposition, not a reflection of some supposed statesmanship or gentlemanliness on Lugar’s part.
Lugar has managed in a few short weeks to eviscerate his own public image. His campaign’s press releases bizarrely refer to him reverently as “respected” or “beloved” or (my personal favorite) “the Boy Scout of Boy Scouts” even as they vomit forth the nastiest barrage of political attacks and smears Indiana has seen in a generation, most of which have been debunked by Factcheck.org. And I say that as someone that lived up close through four matchups between Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel in the Bloody Ninth.
The wide gulf between what people used to think of Dick Lugar and the behavior they are seeing from him now is taking its toll. Just look at the polling. Lugar’s lead is gone, through a combination of arrogance about his residency status and the self-immolation of his own public image and political brand.
He has done all of this to himself. Lugar has managed in a short time to transform his image in the public mind from that of a gentlemanly statesman to someone who exudes the worst stereotypes people see in career politicians.
He has cried wolf so many times with so many cheap shots at his opponent that the latest one (accusing Mourdock of being supportive of the Fairness Doctrine on a questionnaire from two decades ago), promised breathlessly in Lugar press releases as some sort of knockout punch turned out to be little more than a minor spitball in reality. Even the reporters that showed up to cover it were dismissive.
A friend of mine observed, “It’s just stupid. They promised a hydrogen bomb and delivered a gerbil fart.”
National Review’s Brian Bolduc did a story earlier this week on Lugar’s descent:
In person, Senator Dick Lugar (R., Ind.) is a model of probity. “His personal style is very moderate and very pleasant,” says Jeff Bergner, a former staffer. “He tries whenever he can to get someone to come around to his side by persuasion rather than by yelling.”
In a primary, however, he’s no-holds-barred — even juvenile.
State treasurer Richard Mourdock has trained his fire on Lugar’s voting record: his support for President Obama’s Supreme Court appointees, his sponsorship of the DREAM Act, and his backing of the ethanol mandate, to name a few examples.
Lugar’s campaign is meeting fire with fire. But Mourdock lacks a voting record, so Lugar has focused on character, maligning Mourdock’s by insinuating he’s untrustworthy.
The latest onslaught is against Mourdock’s campaign manager, Jim Holden. On March 14, Holden emailed Mourdock’s campaign staff to notify them that he had acquired log-in information for Salesforce, a voter database the state GOP uses. “Can one of you guys log in immediately and start pillaging email addresses like a Viking raider attacking a [monastery] full of unarmed monks?” Holden wrote.
An impolitic e-mail, yes, but not dastardly. Holden did copy on the e-mail an outside vendor working as a consultant for the campaign; as a result, the state GOP, concerned about maintaining security, blocked the Mourdock campaign’s access to the voter database. (The party has a rule against using the list for commercial purposes.) The Lugar campaign, however, has blown this story out of proportion. In a press release, it claimed the Mourdock campaign was “under investigation” and the subject of an “Indiana Republican-party probe.” Former state-party chairman Jim Kittle, a Lugar supporter, called the controversy a “security breach.”
But Jamey Noel, a member of the Indiana Republican state committee, says there was no probe that he knows of: “I was kind of surprised when I heard that, unless it was something that came up privately in a subcommittee meeting. It was never mentioned in the open meeting.” Crucially, the matter was referred to the party’s technology committee, not the disciplinary rules committee. The party wasn’t punishing Mourdock for a security breach; it was simply trying to ensure the voter database didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
But the Lugar campaign has made this line of attack on multiple fronts. After the free-market advocate the Club for Growth began airing aids on behalf of Mourdock, Lugar sent a letter to the Mourdock campaign asking that it push the Club for Growth to disclose its donors’ names. “I am sure you would agree with me that Hoosiers deserve to and should know from whom The Club for Growth’s money is being contributed so that we all can be assured and confident the anti-circumvention provisions, which bar attempts to launder such banned direct contributions through another entity indirectly, are followed,” Lugar wrote.
But the Club for Growth already does disclose its donors, as required by law. The American Action Network, meanwhile, a 501(c)(4) organization that is running ads to promote Lugar, does not disclose its donors, and Lugar’s campaign hasn’t so much as raised a peep. Asked about the discrepancy, Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher says: “The Club for Growth counter misses the point altogether. There is a very serious issue of public trust regarding the $7 billion Treasurer Mourdock invests on behalf of Hoosiers. And Hoosiers have very serious questions about that.”
Finally, the Lugar campaign has played fast and loose with the facts. “Both Lugar’s campaign and the American Action Network are airing misleading attack ads against Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock,” FactCheck.org writes. “The ads strain the facts to make Mourdock look like a tax cheat who makes bad investments and does not show up for work.”
Consider the Lugar attack ad “Trust.” “For years,” the ad says, “Richard Mourdock received $45,000 in illegal second-homestead tax deductions.” That’s true: Mourdock received a homestead tax deduction for both his home in Evansville and his condo in Indianapolis, although state law grants each resident only one deduction on his primary residence. According to the county auditor’s office, however, the previous owner of the condo applied for the deduction, not Mourdock. Furthermore, Mourdock notified the office that he was wrongly receiving the deduction in 2007. Because of a filing error by the auditor’s office, he received the credit for the next three years. But when he again discovered the error in June 2011, Mourdock notified the auditor’s office once more, and the office admitted its error.
In addition, an American Action Network ad, “Problems,” claims that Mourdock’s “big bet on junk bonds” drained millions from state pension funds. FactCheck.org notes: “It’s true that three state funds that purchased Chrysler debt in 2008 lost money when that company went through bankruptcy in 2009. But Mourdock didn’t oversee the investments of the Indiana Teacher’s Retirement Fund, which is the only one that actually lost ‘millions’” What’s more, junk bonds make up 3.3 percent of the state’s portfolio. And since Mourdock took office in 2007, “he has earned over $1.3 billion in investment income on the state’s cash,” the Mourdock campaign says.
Finally, Lugar’s campaign has alleged that Mourdock missed more than two-thirds of the state Board of Finance meetings. That’s technically true, but 99 percent of the time, Mourdock has either attended or a senior staffer has represented him at the meeting, his campaign says.
Thus far, Lugar’s charges against Mourdock are making up in volume what they lack in strength. The desperate nature of the attacks — and their profusion — indicates that this primary race will be close.
We’ve got eleven days to go, and Lugar still has new depths to plumb.