INDIANAPOLIS - Richard G. Lugar, one of the Senate’s longest-serving members, a collegial moderate who personified a gentler political era, was turned out of office Tuesday, ending a career that had spanned the terms of half a dozen presidents and had seen broad shifts in the culture of Washington.
Lugar, a six-term senator who had won most of his recent elections with more than 60 percent of the vote, lost a hard-fought Republican primary to Richard E. Mourdock, the state treasurer. Mourdock’s campaign was fueled by Tea Party groups and national conservative organizations that deemed Lugar too willing to compromise.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Mourdock had just over 60 percent of the vote to just under 40 percent for Lugar.
Lugar, 80, had not faced a challenge from within his own party since his first election to the Senate in 1976.
“I have no regrets about running for reelection, even if doing so can be a very daunting task,’’ he said as he conceded last night.
Lugar’s defeat continued a hollowing of the middle of the Senate and seemed to serve as a caution to moderates on both sides of the aisle known for trying to work with their colleagues.
In February, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican, decided not to run for reelection, citing polarization in Washington. Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a Democratic fiscal centrist, and Jim Webb, a moderate Democrat from Virginia, are both retiring. Two other moderate Democrats, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, face tough reelection races.
Tea Party organizers and conservative leaders held the outcome as evidence of a broader, national demand for Republicans with unshakable stances on fiscal reform and conservative values, as well as a proof of the continuing power of the Tea Party movement.
“Richard Mourdock’s victory truly sends a message to the liberals in the Republican Party,’’ said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “Voters are rejecting the policies that led to record debt and diminished economic freedom, and they will continue to be rejected in elections throughout America.’’
For many of Lugar’s supporters, the results were a sorry arc - not just for a man who has served for 35 years in Washington and as mayor of Indianapolis before that, but for a larger notion of working across party lines.
Prominent Democrats, including President Obama, issued statements of appreciation. Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts called Lugar’s defeat “a tragedy for the Senate.’’
Still, some Democrats, both here and in Washington, eager to hold onto the Senate, seemed buoyed by the results. With Lugar’s defeat, they see the glimmer of an opportunity to claim a Senate seat that the party had considered out of reach as long as Lugar was in the running. The Democratic candidate, Representative Joe Donnelly, is thought to have a better chance with independents and moderate Republicans against Mourdock.
Lugar was criticized throughout the campaign for what critics described as his tendency to cooperate with Democrats, including Obama.
Mourdock, meanwhile, has said that bipartisanship has led the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, and that the nation’s current circumstances call for a time of confrontation, not collegiality.
Lugar argued Tuesday that most Americans are fed up with partisanship.