Cronyism’s last stand?

Lisa De Pasquale Former Director, CPAC
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Curiously, there’s an important Senate primary race in Indiana that some top conservative voices are ignoring. The Republican incumbent candidate supported amnesty and the Kennedy-McCain DREAM Act, as well as President Obama’s nominations of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. It’s no wonder that Senator Dick Lugar has been called “Obama’s favorite Republican.”

The other candidate in the race challenged the federal government’s asset grab when President Obama ordered a bailout and government takeover of Chrysler. Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock stood up for Indiana pensioners who owned $42.5 million of Chrysler’s debt and took the case to the Supreme Court. He has received endorsements from FreedomWorks, Gun Owners of America, Eagle Forum, Amy Kremer of Tea Party Express, Mark Levin and Steve Forbes, among many others. He has also been endorsed by dozens of Indiana Republican committee members and county chairs.

The Washington-based Club for Growth has grumbled about Senator Lugar for years and several months ago released a poll of 500 likely Republican primary voters showing a close race between Lugar and Mourdock. In July, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement to The Hill, “An incumbent who sits at 32 percent in his own party’s primary, and trails a much less known challenger, is in a world of trouble. Senator Lugar is a very decent man, but it’s clear from the poll that after 35 years, Hoosier Republicans are eager for a more conservative alternative.”

However, Chocola, an Indiana native and former congressman, and Club for Growth have not formally endorsed Mourdock. In early November, a local poll sponsored by WISH-TV and Franklin College found that Lugar is leading by double digits in his hometown of Indianapolis. Even though the primary is months away, some other prominent conservatives like Representative Mike Pence and Senator Jim DeMint have not publicly endorsed anyone in the race. Yes, it’s still early, but endorsements from these members could help with fundraising and name recognition, two things that candidates who are challenging incumbents usually need the most.

U.S. News and World Report reported this week that Mourdock has raised less than $1 million compared to Lugar’s $4 million. One reason Lugar is out-fundraising Mourdock is that Lugar has been fundraising among left-leaning politicians. He has received donations from Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, former Clinton Administration Defense Secretary Bill Cohen and former Representative Mike Castle of Delaware. On December 5, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will host a fundraiser for Lugar. The cost to chair the event is $10,000.

While I don’t question the conservative credentials of Pence and DeMint, I do question the courage of their convictions. This isn’t like the Florida Senate race, where there are several viable conservatives running. Mourdock’s campaign could benefit from their endorsement now rather than later, when the race is already lost because of lack of funds.

While many prominent Republican lawmakers pay lip service to the tea party and the conservative movement, it’s possible they’re avoiding the Indiana race because Lugar is the most senior Republican member of the Senate, which would make him president pro tempore of the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber in 2012.

The tea party has had a big impact on American politics. The Capitol building in D.C. may be where cronyism makes its last stand.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sen. Lugar supported the 2009 stimulus. He didn’t. It also stated that Gov. Mitch Daniels hadn’t endorsed Sen. Lugar. He has.

Lisa De Pasquale is a writer based in Alexandria, Virginia. She is the former director of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Follow her on Twitter at @LisaDeP.