Lugar airs first 2012 ad against a rare challenger

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Rhonda Wrzenski
Rhonda Wrzenski
Richard Crace
Richard Crace

SELLERSBURG, IN (WAVE) - It's only January, but campaign ads are already hitting the airwaves and it comes from an unlikely place. Indiana's Republican Sen. Dick Lugar has been in office for more than three decades. After winning his seat, he has never had a primary challenger until now. 

For Indiana's longest serving senator, first elected in 1976, this is uncharted water. He has an opponent from his own party, so now he's starting to spend money early.

"Our Sen. Dick Lugar wrote the law to stop President Obama from killing 20,000 jobs that could be created now," said an announcer in Lugar's first ad of 2012.

On Tuesday the ad started airing on broadcast and cable, distancing himself from the President.

Richard Mourdock, who is Indiana's Treasurer, started airing ads of his own during the republican presidential debate on Monday.

"Dick Lugar. No wonder he's called Obama's favorite republican," said an announcer on the ad.

Rhonda Wrzenski, an assistant professor at Indiana University Southeast's political science department says the two want to distance themselves from the President, but remember that he won Indiana in 2008. She looked at both ads.

"The truth is somewhere in the middle ultimately," said Wrzenski of the ads. "Yes, Lugar supported Obama on certain things, on other things that's not the case."

Lugar hasn't faced much tough competition. In 2006, his last election, he didn't even have a democratic challenger.

The 2012 political landscape is different, however, especially for republicans after the creation of the Tea Party. The Tea Party doesn't endorse, but many members are backing his opponent.

"Richard Lugar has been in office for so long he's become a Rhino in our mind," said Richard Crace of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots. "He is republican in name only."

Lugar has publicly slammed the Tea Party, blaming their challenges for killing off republican efforts to take over the Senate.

A spokesperson for Lugar's campaign said the comments were about the Tea Party movement regarding elections in other states, not the Tea Party in Indiana.

"In some ways I think that republicans that are more moderate have had to contend with that very conservative faction that hasn't been always willing to compromise, so I think that there's some truth to that," said Wrzenski.

Crace believes the Tea Party is stronger than ever, while Wrzenski doesn't know if their candidates can win in 2012.

"Some were successful in 2010 and they have a bit of a caucus built up in the legislature, but the question is can they maintain that momentum in 2012 and that remains to be seen," said Wrzenski.

Chris Conner in Mourdock's press office says they will continue targeting their ads, airing it next during the republican presidential debate.

These are just the first ads of the 2012 campaign season.  Indiana's primary isn't until May 8th.

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