FORT WAYNE – State Democratic Party leaders have been pounding left and right on Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. But he and their Senate candidate appear to share the very middle of the political spectrum.
The website GovTrack.us calls Lugar a centrist Republican and Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, a centrist Democrat, based on statistical analyses of bills they and their colleagues have co-sponsored. GovTrack is run by Civic Impulse, a company that advocates transparency in government.
Members of Congress show up on GovTrack diagrams as dots according to ideological and leadership yardsticks. Lugars dot is smack dab in the center of the Senate chart, and Donnellys is in roughly the same spot on the House graph.
Those closest ideologically to Lugar are Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Scott Brown, R-Mass. Donnelly has more company on the House side, including several fellow members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative and moderate Democrats.
Indiana Democrats did not run a candidate against Lugar the last time he ran for re-election, in 2006.
Lets be honest, state party Chairman Dan Parker said at the time, Richard Lugar is beloved not only by Republicans but by independents and Democrats.
What has changed since then is the emergence of the tea party, which regards Lugar as insufficiently conservative. So for the first time since he was elected in 1976, Lugar faces a challenger in the Republican primary election this May: state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Donnelly won his House seat in 2006 but was nearly defeated in 2010 by Republican Jackie Walorski, a tea party favorite. Walorski re-launched her campaign a year ago, GOP state lawmakers redrew the 2nd District more to the partys liking, and Donnelly opted to run for Lugars seat.
Believing they stand a better chance of beating Mourdock than Lugar, Democrats have been bashing the senator almost daily in recent weeks, mostly for selling his Indianapolis house in 1977 and living in Virginia ever since. They have been less critical of his Capitol Hill votes, which have been the same as Donnellys on some major bills.
Lugar and Donnelly supported the Wall Street bailout, federal loans for General Motors and Chrysler, raising the nations debt ceiling and extending the payroll tax cut. Both want the Keystone XL oil pipeline built.
In an interview last week, Donnelly acknowledged he and Lugar agree on many issues, but he pointed out a couple on which they differ.
Where we dont align is he supports vouchers for Medicare, Donnelly said. I think thats a very, very dangerous situation for our seniors.
He supported all those trade agreements that sent jobs overseas. I have opposed those because I think we ought to stand up for our manufacturers and our companies right here, Donnelly said.
They have split on other high-profile legislation. Donnelly voted for President Obamas health care law and economic stimulus plan and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. Lugar voted against all three. Lugar endorsed a bill establishing a route to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants; Donnelly opposed it.
Lugar scores much higher than Donnelly with conservative groups that track lawmakers votes. For example, Lugar last year received a 77 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union for his votes through 2010, compared with 30 percent for Donnelly.
But the ACU says 80 percent is its conservative designation, and Lugar was among 10 GOP senators who fell short of the mark.
The non-partisan National Journal last week released its political-spectrum ratings for congressional votes cast in 2011. It tabbed Lugar as the 37th most conservative senator, ahead of 10 other Republicans in the 100-member Senate, where Democrats and independents occupy 53 seats.
Donnelly was ranked the 244th most conservative member in the 435-seat, GOP-controlled House, and he tied for sixth most conservative Democrat.
I have not analyzed his voting record yet, Lugar said about Donnelly while in Fort Wayne on Saturday. Ive heard him characterized as a moderate Democrat, meaning that he would be more centrist. I dont know the degree with which we have agreement. Ive not been campaigning against him.
But doesnt it seem to Lugar that he is closer philosophically to Donnelly than to Mourdock?
I have no idea. Im not sure what my primary opponent believes, Lugar said.
Mourdock has said he is against the DREAM Act immigration law and federal aid for banks and automakers. He also has condemned Lugars votes to confirm Obamas two appointments to the Supreme Court and Lugars support for earmarks, an abandoned process for sending federal funds to projects in congressional members home states or districts.
Donnelly has both sponsored earmarks for his district and voted to ban them.
Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently described Donnelly a reliable vote for President Obama.