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Sen. Lugar leaves behind bipartisan legacy

When Richard Lugar first went to Washington, more than half of all Hoosiers weren't even born yet. It was 1976. The Reagan revolution was still four years away.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)

Indiana will have a new senator next year after six-term incumbent Richard Lugar lost the Republican primary to state treasurer Richard Mourdock.

When Mr. Lugar first went to Washington, more than half of all Hoosiers weren't even born yet. It was 1976. The Reagan revolution was still four years away.

"It was a very, very bad year for Republicans in 1976. We lost the presidency, we lost a lot of races around the country, so Lugar was one of the bright spots," said Peter Rusthoven, WTHR Republican analyst.

Lugar had little seniority in the Senate, but was not a neophyte politician. He was a two-term Indianapolis mayor who re-made Indianapolis by recasting it as the "Amateur Sports Capital of the World."

He built market Square Arena downtown, which started Indianapolis on the road to Super Bowl XLVI four decades later.

"Lugar put us on the map. All of the good things that have happened since, which have involved contributions from Bill Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, and Bart Peterson and now Greg Ballard, they've all built on it on their own way, but the foundation is made by what Lugar did," said Rusthoven.

As he climbed the seniority ladder in the Senate, his seat seemed safe at home. He started thinking bigger and launched a campaign for president in 1995.

The presidential campaign fizzled, but Lugar was already turning his attention to broader issues. He became a statesman, co-sponsoring the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program that has dismantled more than 7,500 nuclear warheads since 1992.

But the more he concentrated on foreign affairs, the less connection he had with Indiana voters.

Lugar made frequent trips home, but he no longer had a permanent home here. He sold his Indiana home in 1977 and political opponents made that an issue in the latest primary campaign.

Richard Mourdock went so far as to hold a press conference on the lawn.

"After Democrats had launched that story about that house, that seemed the likely place to do it. And it certainly does make the point that he has not lived in Indiana since 1977," said Mourdock.

At 80 years old and now a lame-duck senator, Lugar has another seven months on the job. He leaves with the longest service record in Congress in Indiana history and in the top 20 nationwide.

"Historically, this is not just one of the great senators now. This is one of the great senators in United States history," said Rusthoven. "He is like a Daniel Webster, he is like a Henry Clay - names that I fear too many of our kids in grade school and high school don't even know anymore."

Both Webster and Clay left the Senate to become Secretary of State. Lugar may not follow that path, but his impact on foreign affairs from his Senate seat has been significant, and no one can argue the fact the his work helped make the world safer, not just for Hoosiers, but for everyone.

The Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program is the signature achievement of Lugar's Senate Career. Ironically, because it is a bipartisan effort, it is also part of what ended that career. The Tea Party rallied around Mourdock and his charge that Lugar was out of touch.

Conservatives called Lugar a sellout and a Washington insider, likening him to President Obama in a wave of negative ads.

"I believe that good people, regardless of party, can work together for the benefit of our country," Lugar told supporters in his concession speech Tuesday night.

Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN02), who will face Mourdock in November in the Senate race, recalled meeting with the senator when Donnelly first went to Washington in 2007.

Lugar told Donnelly, "Look, I just want to tell you, whatever we talk about, don't ever worry; it's between you and me. I want to try to help you be the best representative for northern Indiana and for our state that you can be and I want you to know that we're both here for our country first. We have extraordinary things we're dealing with in Iraq and Afghanistan and maybe a few of the things I've learned over the years might be of help to you."

Donnelly called Lugar "ever humble and ever modest."