Lugar faces Tea Party challenge

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
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Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar may be the Senate's senior Republican, but in Indiana, he is the next target of the Tea Party movement. Conservative members of Lugar's own party are looking for a challenger for the 2012 election.

One day after greeting the Chinese premier in Washington, Sen. Lugar is back home in Indiana raising money for an unprecedented run for a seventh term in the United States Senate.

"He's been there long enough. Thirty-six years; if he wins again 42 years.  That's too much!" said Greg Fettig, Tea Party.

Fettig is organizing a closed Tea Party meeting this weekend to try and unify the 73 or so groups that currently comprise the Tea Party in Indiana behind one GOP challenger to Senator Lugar. At present they have two possibilities: State Senator Mike Delph and State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. 

Fettig says the senator's stance on the START Treaty, Dream Act and Supreme Court confirmation votes have made him a target of his own party.

"After thirty years or so many years is it a sense of duty to the country or oneself? He's outside what the mainstream conservative wing wants him to do," said Fettig.

Eyewitness News asked the senator if he ever imagined his biggest political challenge coming from within his own party.

"It could very well be that there are people who want to run for office and I say more power to them. But at the same time I just indicate that our group is very competitive and we are very eager to get started," he said.

Not all Republicans are lining up against the senator. Gov. Mitch Daniels has publicly stated his intention to vote for his political mentor. But Congressman Mike Pence had the opportunity to do so during a town hall earlier this week in New Castle and declined. A voter asked Pence why Lugar was being targeted.

"Let me leave the political question for another time," Pence said.

Lugar is ready to start the debate now, especially when it comes to the START Treaty.

"How in the world conservative Republicans would be in a position in which they don't want to take warheads off of missiles in Russia aimed at us, any one of which can annihilate this city," Lugar said, expressing his surprise at the criticism.

The senator, who will attend two fund raisers Friday, says he will need to raise $2 million to get his message out. His challengers say they need to work on unifying their base.  The work for both begins now.
At present Fettig says the Tea Party in Indiana has 35,000 members which he says can influence up to 350,000 Hoosiers at the polls. For his part, Sen. Lugar will raise almost $400,000 Friday night, pushing his war chest to over $2.3 million - the most he has ever raised at this juncture of a re-election campaign. Both are substantial.