INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana said Tuesday he plans to seek a seventh term next year despite a challenge from tea party groups.
Lugar, who has generally won re-election easily since the 1980s, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington that he takes the opposition seriously.
Representatives from more than 50 tea party groups plan to meet Saturday in Tipton to discuss strategies to beat Lugar in next year’s GOP primary.
An e-mail statement Tuesday from Monica Boyer and Greg Fettig, leaders of Hoosiers for Conservative Senate, warned that Lugar would face a primary challenge and that the group “is intent on sending him into a much deserved and overdue retirement.”
Lugar’s spokesman, Mark Helmke, said the senator plans to run a vigorous campaign and is committed to winning a seventh term representing Indiana in the Senate. Lugar was first elected to the Senate in 1976. He has won re-election with as much as 69 percent of the vote when opposed by Democratic candidates. In 2006, when he faced only a Libertarian candidate on the ballot, he won 87 percent of the vote.
He plans to return to Indiana on Friday for a major fundraiser in Carmel, outside Indianapolis. A federal report said that as of Sept. 30 Lugar already had raised nearly $2.4 million.
Lugar has carved out a bipartisan reputation during his decades in Washington, working with Democrats on a variety of issues, particularly foreign policy initiatives. That could make him vulnerable to a potential challenge from a tea party challenger on the right.
“Lugar’s been a solid Republican conservative his entire career and has not changed,” Helmke said.
But he acknowledged there was dissatisfaction with the performance of the economy and some of President Barack Obama’s initiatives.
“I think there are people unhappy with the way the country is going, and understandably so,” Helmke said.
Lugar’s support for such things as the DREAM Act, which would help some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children obtain a path to citizenship, and his votes for Obama’s Supreme Court nominees have upset many conservatives in Indiana, particularly those aligned with the tea party movement. He has also supported the New START arms reduction treaty signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April and has expressed support for renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban in light of the recent shootings in Arizona. Lugar spokesman Wayne Stanley said the issue isn’t expected to come up for a vote anytime soon, however.
“As conservatives, we feel that he no longer represents Hoosier values or conservatism,” Boyer and Fettig said in their statement. “The senator’s recent assault on our Second Amendment right clearly illustrates that he has lost touch with his constituents and no longer hears the heartbeat and conservative values long held by Hoosiers.”
“Dick Lugar’s going to run a campaign based on what Dick Lugar’s been doing,” Hemke said.
Two Republicans mentioned as possible challengers to Lugar are State Treasurer Richard Mourdock and state Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel.
Associated Press reporter Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.