SHARPSVILLE — Tea party members who want to unseat six-term U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar gathered Saturday at a rural central Indiana church, where they signed a letter urging him not to run in next year’s Republican primary.
About 180 people representing some 70 tea party groups from around the state turned out for the meeting at Heartland Family Life Center in Sharpsville, a Tipton County town about 40 miles north of Indianapolis.
Seymour resident Jon Stahl was among those attending the meeting in Sharpsville.
He backs the effort to persuade Lugar to retire.
“He has strayed away from the conservative values that he used to have and was elected for,” Stahl said.
Stahl is a leader in the local tea party group, called We the People Jack-son County.
During the four-hour meeting, they signed a letter thanking Lugar for his service but urging him not to run for re-election.
They also agreed to eventually support a single challenger to Lugar, rather than split their support among multiple candidates in the May 2012 primary.
Some tea party members consider Lugar — who has said he plans to seek a seventh term — too liberal to represent Indiana Republicans.
Saturday’s meeting was just the start of a long process, tea party member Pat Miller told Fort Wayne television station WANE. Miller said activists will now focus on educating the public about Lugar’s record and raising campaign money for the 2012 race.
“This letter will let him know, thank you for what you’ve done. We respect you greatly as a person and for what you’ve done in the past,” Miller said. “But to go forward, we feel it’s going to need to be a different candidate.”
Monica Boyer of Kosciusko County Silent No More, a northern Indiana tea party group, said Lugar lost her support when he voted to confirm both of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“He’s just gotten progressively more liberal with more issues than ever before,” Boyer said after the meeting.
She said the tea party supporters left the gathering energized and with a sense of unity for their effort to end Lugar’s long tenure in the Senate.
Stahl agreed that coalescing around one candi-date will be needed to defeat Lugar in the pri-mary election next year.
“A lot of people thought Dan Coats was not the person we really wanted in Sen. Bayh’s position, but the Republican Party seemed to want to put him in there, and then all the tea party groups splintered and Coats won rather easily,” Stahl said.
Stahl said he was impressed with the number of groups at Saturday’s meeting. He said there were people from 79 tea party groups across the state, representing all nine congressional districts.
At least two Republicans have been mentioned as possible candidates to challenge Lugar: State Treasurer Richard Mourdock and state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel.
Boyer said that those at Saturday’s meeting discussed both men as potential candidates, and talked about a vetting process for determining which candidate activists will eventually support.
“Those two names are being tossed around right now and we’re just waiting to find out what they’re going to do,” she said.
Lugar, meanwhile, was in Indianapolis on Saturday being honored by a Hispanic and Latino civic group, La Plaza, for his support for the DREAM Act. That act, which would help some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children obtain a path to citizenship, is opposed by tea party activists.
The senator told more than 50 people at that gathering that the 2012 election could be the most challenging one he has faced, but that he believes he has strong support.
As he accepted a plaque from the group, Lugar smiled and told the crowd, “I should point out that other Hoosiers are proceeding to Tipton County to plot my political end.”
During a fundraiser Friday night in Carmel, Lugar said he raised $390,000 from the 420 attendees. He said he has also gotten more than 8,000 signatures in support of his re-election run.
“People are fired up and already ready for this election,” Lugar said. “It’s encouraging, to say the least.”