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February 25, 2012

Lugar can stay on ballot

From a legal standpoint, it was a good week for Sen. Richard Lugar.

On Friday, the Indiana Election Commission voted unanimously to deny a challenge to his eligibility as a candidate, allowing his name to appear on the ballot.

The day before, Attorney General Greg Zoeller reaffirmed a decision issued in 1982 saying that members of Congress are allowed to maintain their residency for voting purposes even though they’ve moved out of the state. They can continue voting from their last Indiana address even though they no longer live at that address.

In Lugar’s case, that means he can continue voting from an address in Indianapolis even though he sold the house in 1977.

That’s a hard sell for many voters, a number of whom have shared their views on the opposite page.

The fact is, though, that what Lugar did in 1977 is what most average Hoosiers would have done if elected to the U.S. Senate. He did what the proverbial Mr. Smith would have done.

He moved. He sold his house in Indianapolis and bought another one in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

How many of us wouldn’t have done that? How many of us could afford to maintain homes in two states?

Many congressional representatives do, of course. They keep a home in their home state, and they routinely travel back on weekends and during recesses.

Among them is Joe Donnelly, Indiana’s 2nd District congressman who still maintains a home in Granger. Donnelly, a Democrat, will be waiting in the fall should Lugar manage to get past fellow Republican Richard Mourdock in the primary.

Democrats have pointed out that Lugar, when he returns to Indiana, frequently stays in a hotel. Often at taxpayer expense.

Thus the narrative of the campaign develops. Lugar is an outsider.

He left the state 35 years ago, and he no longer has a handle on Hoosier values. He’s a career politician with a Washington mentality.

It’s a narrative that has already caught on with some voters. They see him as disconnected from Indiana concerns, more worried about what’s going on in the Middle East and other parts of the world than about what’s going on in Indianapolis or Logansport.

Lugar has been working to change that. Though he’s been criticized in recent years for avoiding the chicken dinner circuit, he has begun to be a more frequent guest at county Lincoln dinners and other events in his home state.

It is interesting to note that Lugar has stood for re-election five times since 1977, and where he lived has never been much of an issue.

Frankly, not much really has. Lugar won by a landslide in 1976, carrying every county but Lake and collecting nearly 60 percent of the vote. He won his second term in a slightly closer campaign, but he has racked up more than 65  percent of the vote in every election since.

In 2006, Democrats failed to put up a challenger, and Lugar won over a Libertarian and two independents with more than 87 percent of the vote.

Such has not been the case as Lugar seeks a seventh consecutive term in 2012.

His age might be part of the issue. Lugar will turn 80 on April 4, and he would be 86 by the time he finished his seventh term.

He is the third most senior member of the U.S. Senate, behind only Daniel Inouye and Patrick Leahy. He is the longest serving senator in Indiana history.

For some Republicans, 36 years in the Senate is long enough.

Where he lives is not the central issue for these folks. They say spending so much time in Washington has transformed Lugar into a moderate, and it’s time to bring him home.

We’ll find out in May whether that viewpoint will carry the day.

• Kelly Hawes is managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5155 or kelly.hawes@pharostribune.com.

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