Indiana's state treasurer, who became a tea party favorite for challenging aspects of the government's auto industry bailout, said Tuesday he will challenge six-term U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar for the Republican nomination in next year's primary.
At a news conference attended by some 200 supporters, Richard Mourdock said he respects Lugar's decades of public service but thinks his challenge to the moderate senator will ultimately benefit Indiana Republicans.
"As a party, we are made better when we have a contest for our ideas and ideals," Mourdock told those gathered at the Indianapolis Artsgarden.
Mourdock, who was elected state treasurer in 2006 and again in 2010, made a name for himself nationally in 2009 when he sued to block Chrysler's bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of three Indiana pension funds that lost millions of dollars in the automaker's government-backed bailout. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against the funds.
Lugar is among a handful of moderate Republican lawmakers whose seats have been targeted by tea party leaders for siding with President Barack Obama and the Democrats on certain issues, including legislation that would help the children of illegal immigrants attend college.
Mourdock said he feels Lugar has lost touch with Indiana's conservative base.
"He (Lugar) has supported that agenda (the Obama agenda) time and time again," Mourdock said. "He's known for his bi-partisanship."
Lugar said Tuesday that he has been prepared since last summer for a tea party-backed challenge, and that he won't be caught off guard like some long-serving officeholders who were ousted in the mid-term elections.
Mourdock said one area where he feels Republican and Democratic lawmakers can compromise is in dealing with the nation's budget crisis.
"In politics, you add up both sides, average it out, divide in the middle, and you call that 'truth,'" the former geologist told The Associated Press. "When you're a scientist, you learn there's a fact — there's a fact on one end of the spectrum or the other."
Mourdock, who is from the Evansville area, said he has the backing of 67 of Indiana's 92 Republican county chairmen. He pledged to remain in office no longer than two terms, if elected.
Indiana state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, has also been mentioned as a possible tea party-backed candidate to challenge Lugar, but Delph said he won't address his possible candidacy until after the end of the legislative session in April.