Indiana Republicans opted for a big change in their party's leadership.
One of the old lions of the U.S. Senate went down to defeat in Tuesday's Republican Party primary election in neighboring Indiana, and not in a small way.
Six-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar was handily defeated by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, leading many political analysts to speculate that the defeat of the conservative Lugar by fellow conservative Mourdock heralds a stark turn in our national politics.
There is no question that many of Lugar's former supporters in the Republican Party turned on him. But it's not completely clear why.
Mourdock's campaign obviously was energized by tea party supporters and other conservative activists who had grown tired of Lugar's willingness to accommodate liberal Democrats on a variety of issues. But Lugar's advanced age and growing aloofness from the folks back home also were factors.
A six-term incumbent, the 80-year-old Lugar had come to look on his seat in the Senate as personal property. A longtime fixture in Washington, D.C., Lugar didn't even have a home in Indiana, listing a family farm he had sold years ago as his residence. It was more than a little embarrassing for him to have to admit during his unsuccessful campaign that he was forced to stay with friends or in a hotel when he returned to what was supposed to be his home state.
Because of his expertise on a variety of issues, Lugar is among the most admired and respected members of the Senate. But his reputation as a foreign policy maven didn't necessarily translate in a political year in which jobs and the economy are the key issues.
His defeat, however, poses a problem for Republicans and an opportunity for Democrats. Had Lugar won renomination, polls showed that he was a sure winner in the fall election. The polls show no such thing for Mourdock.
Republican conservatives will have to show that they cannot only defeat incumbents like Lugar in a primary election, but do the same against a Democrat in a general election.
Two similar U.S. Senate races in 2010 — Delaware and Nevada — had tea party conservatives crowing over primary wins and then mourning predictable defeats at the hands of liberal Democrats. If the same thing happens in Indiana, it will mark another example of ideological purists misjudging the political landscape to the overall detriment of their cause.