After Sen. Richard Lugar’s decades-long career on the Hill came to an abrupt end Tuesday night, some of his Senate colleagues openly lamented his loss, defended his conservative credentials, and blasted his defeat as a troubling sign for the future of the chamber.
Those colleagues were on the other side of the aisle.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee where Lugar serves as ranking member, quickly addressed the primary results last night in a long, impassioned statement in support of his longtime friend and colleague, who took a 61-39 percent beating from Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
“This is a tough period in American politics, but I’d like to think that we’ll again see a United States Senate where Dick Lugar’s brand of thoughtful, mature, and bi-partisan work is respected and rewarded,” he said.
But the main message was a warning that the bipartisanship is near the end of its run in the notoriously deadlocked upper chamber — or, as the senator put it Wednesday afternoon, “the alarm bells have been sounded.”
Kerry called Lugar’s loss “a tragedy for the Senate” and “a blow to the institution during a period when the institution itself has been strained.”
The onetime Democratic presidential candidate was far from finished with his lament, as he used a chunk of his floor time today to warn about the “consequences” of Lugar’s defeat.
“Whether you agreed with him or not,” Kerry said, Lugar “refused to allow this march to an orthodoxy about ideology… to get in the way of what he thought was the responsibility of a senator.”
“There’s no doubt from anyone on our side of the aisle that Dick Lugar is a conservative,” Kerry added, noting “he’s a proud Republican.”
The chairman said that only in the last few years had politics begun to interfere in the foreign policy side of Senate action, and “we would do well to get back in touch” with the good old days of cross-aisle cooperation.
“These are the same rules that we operated with when Bob Dole was leader, when George Mitchell was leader,” Kerry said. “We got things done … we don’ t have to change the rules, we have to change the thinking or change the people who don’t want to do it.”
The Massachusetts senator said lawmakers were needed with “intelligence and willpower to put the country and its interests above everything else.”
“My prayer is that this election year is going to help purge this country of this incredible waste of opportunity that we’re living through here,” Kerry said.
It was then Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) turn on the floor, where he said that Lugar and late Rhode Island moderate Republican John Chafee were “soulmates.”
“What a disappointment last night,” Durbin lamented, adding that he’d worked with Lugar on foreign policy in bipartisan settings such as the Aspen Institute.
“We also knew he was a Hoosier conservative,” Durbin added, saying that it was known that Lugar couldn’t be budged from his ideology and he hoped the Senate wouldn’t “succumb to temptation to making this place more partisan.”
“It is a loss,” he said. “It’s a sad day on both sides of the aisle that Dick Lugar won’t be part of the Senate in the future.”
While expressing doubts about the future of the chamber — and, clearly, fears about Tea Party influence within — the Democrats acknowledged that they don’t know who will ultimately fill Lugar’s seat in November.
But as much as they’ll miss their six-term colleague, Democrats are today more optimistic about the opportunity to fill a seat that was previously in the solid red column. Sensing this opportunity in the making, Majority PAC, the Dems’ Senate-race super PAC, spent $32,500 on anti-Lugar ads during the primary and not a dime against Mourdock.
Mourdock, backed by Sarah Palin and others on the Tea Party right, is “not Christine O’Donnell,” as former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) told ABC News, in terms of political and campaign experience — though Dems are said to have stocked up a trove of soundbites, including a call for more partisanship in Washington, and actions to whip out against Mourdock in this next leg of the contest.
And he hasn’t wasted any time jumping into the ring against his Democratic challenger in November, Blue Dog Rep. Joe Donnelly, who has polled evenly with Mourdock but trailed badly behind Lugar. In an email to the Breitbart News list today, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) sent out a fundraising plea from the Senate Conservatives Fund to jump-start Mourdock’s general election effort.