Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) vowed Tuesday to run for reelection despite early activity by Tea Party groups to knock him off in a 2012 primary.
Lugar has invited several hundred supporters to a major fundraiser on Friday that he expects will raise $320,000, a hefty haul by Indiana standards.
Representatives from as many as 50 Tea Party groups will meet the next day in Tipton, Ind., to plot their tactics for next year’s primary. The activists hope to establish ground rules to ensure that only one Tea Party-backed candidate squares off against Lugar.
“It’s hard for me to evaluate how serious the threat is,” Lugar said during a breakfast with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “I take any opposition seriously if groups are planning to meet in Tipton, Ind., as they are on Saturday.
“This is still the year before the year, and I can’t recall a time when there has been this vigorous activity in Indiana with regard to Senate campaigns,” Lugar said.
Several candidates claiming Tea Party affiliation ran against newly elected Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) in the 2010 Republican primary, splitting the vote and giving Coats the nomination, with 39 percent of the vote.
State Treasurer Richard Mourdock and state Sen. Mike Delph have been mentioned as possible Lugar challengers. Some activists have also touted Marlin Stutzman, who lost to Coats.
Lugar reacted with surprise Tuesday when he heard that veteran Sen. Kent. Conrad (D) had decided to retire instead of running what was expected to be a difficult reelection campaign in a hostile environment. Conrad’s decision comes after Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), another longtime colleague, announced her retirement.
Lugar said he is committed to running for reelection because he believes he can help advance nuclear disarmament, secure loose nuclear material and weapons, and defend U.S. farmers who face trade barriers overseas, including restrictions on genetically-modified crops.
“These are areas that are maybe not on everybody’s plate, but ones in which I believe I can make a distinct contribution,” Lugar said. “I want to continue to do so. I’ve done the homework in the past [and] know the players. So this is an opportunity to be most productive.”
Lugar said he hasn’t contemplated retirement.
“I’ve been fortunate to have very good health and spirits and I’m grateful for that,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted, but nevertheless I’m excited about what I’m doing.”
Lugar says he has been a faithful member of the Republican Party.
A tally of Senate votes shows he has voted with GOP leaders 84 percent of the time. But Lugar notes that 35 percent of the votes he cast differently from his party’s leadership were related to the New START nuclear treaty that was ratified last month.
Lugar, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, managed Republican support for the bill after GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) announced their opposition.
Tea Party activists have faulted Lugar for co-sponsoring the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants under a certain age to become legal residents if they meet several requirements.
He has also drawn criticism for supporting President Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.