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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chats with members of his campaign staff Saturday during a visit to his campaign office in downtown Fort Wayne.

Lugar tells of twin fight: Primary rival, Democrats

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., says his primary campaign has generated “abnormal interest.”

– The way he figures it, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., has more than one foe in the Republican primary election.

“The Democratic state committee appears to me to be even more active than my opponent in attempting to create issues and make arguments and so forth,” Lugar said Saturday at his campaign office in downtown Fort Wayne. “They are sort of prompting him to get in there, get tougher.

“It’s an interesting combination to have both the Democratic Party in Indiana plus my opponent simultaneously working” against Lugar, he told a dozen supporters at his campaign office at Jefferson Boulevard and Fulton Street.

The 35-year senator is being challenged in the Republican primary by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

The winner will take on Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, the only Democratic primary candidate.

Lugar said his polling and phone-bank data show him with a nearly 2-1 lead over Mourdock. But in a straw poll taken in Muncie on Saturday among Republican precinct officials from Delaware and Henry counties, Mourdock received 61 votes to Lugar’s eight. Mourdock attended the straw poll; Lugar did not.

Results of the vote were unavailable when Lugar visited Fort Wayne.

Mourdock and state Democratic officials in recent weeks have portrayed Lugar as being out of touch with his constituents because he has not lived in the state since 1977. Last week, both the Indiana attorney general and the Indiana Election Commission ruled that Lugar meets residency requirements.

The attorney general’s office upheld a 1982 attorney general’s opinion that, for voting in Indiana elections, Hoosier congressmen do not give up their residency if they move out of state to fulfill their federal duties.

“I would just say that, clearly, people can criticize my decision” to live in McLean, Va., Lugar said Saturday in an interview.

“I could not afford to own a house there and in Indiana” when he first went to the Senate and was raising a family, he said.

Didn’t he suspect his residency would become an issue at some point in his Senate career?

“I really did not,” Lugar said. “I’m not going to criticize anybody for trying to find a political issue. But this really has almost nothing to do with my service. We established a long time ago precisely what the law of residency is and what our rights and privileges are.”

He contended Mourdock and Democratic Party leaders “want to argue over residency or over house ownership or what have you almost to the exclusion of the problems that I believe are important: jobs, the economy, how to pass a new farm bill, how to repeal Obamacare, how to pass the (Keystone) XL pipeline – in other words, some things that actually are, I believe, relevant issues in a campaign.”

Did he ever consider buying or renting a house or apartment in Indiana after his sons grew up?

“I did not,” Lugar said. “At the time I was first elected, it was I think a regular procedure for senators, perhaps because they had a six-year term, to do about what I had done if they were at the income level I had – that is, to buy a house in Washington, sell a house elsewhere and to go back and forth on the weekend, on the recesses, on the holidays to visit with constituents.”

Lugar told supporters there is “abnormal interest” from around the nation in Indiana’s Senate race because he is the only Republican incumbent with a primary-election challenge. The fate of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, rides on a GOP nominating convention.

“If you are an interest group, you are for or against us,” Lugar said. “This is about the only place to spend your money or your time or your interest.”

Supporters who listened to Lugar included Paula Hughes, the GOP candidate for Fort Wayne mayor last year. Lugar’s campaign base for northeast Indiana is in the same storefront where Hughes had her headquarters.

Before coming to Fort Wayne, Lugar spoke at a Wells County Republican Party fundraising lunch in Bluffton.