Updated: Monday, 07 Feb 2011, 8:23 PM EST
Published : Monday, 07 Feb 2011, 9:00 AM EST
WASHINGTON, DC (WANE) - He's an institution in Washington, DC. Over the years, few senators have garnered more respect on Capitol Hill than Indiana's Richard Lugar . He's been a fixture in the Senate since 1977; seemingly unbeatable at the ballot box.
But now, Richard Lugar is very busy gearing up for a challenge from his own party, as NewsChannel 15 found out during a recent visit with the senator in the nation's capital.
Lugar's spacious Washington office is so covered with books that it looks like a library. The bookshelves are a testament to Lugar's longevity. Most have been given to him as gifts during his time in the U.S. Senate . Lugar, however, hasn't had much time for reading lately.
Besides the business of the Senate, he's been occupied with the matter of winning re-election in 2012.
"I don't think I've ever been involved in a campaign for a statewide office that started the whole year before the year," said Lugar. "But nevertheless, here we are and we're very competitive."
Lugar has been a Member of Congress for almost 12,500 days, the longest in Indiana history. Some members of the Tea Party movement say that's long enough.
They want a more conservative candidate, and met in central Indiana last month to start the process of uniting behind a single opponent for Lugar in the 2012 Republican primary.
"[We're saying to Lugar] thank you for what you've done. We respect you greatly as a person and for what you've done in the past. But to go forward, we feel it's going to need to be a different candidate," Tea Party activist Pat Miller told NewsChannel 15 in January.
Among other criticisms, Tea Party activists have taken Lugar to task for supporting the new START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, claiming the U.S. is giving up too much and Russia is not giving up enough.
"I've been working systematically for 20 years going to Russia trying to help direct a situation in which we're taking warheads off of missiles every day, destroying missiles that were aimed at us; destroying submarines that carried misslies up and down our coast," said Lugar. "I've got to say 'Get real'. I hear Tea Party or other people talking about they were against START. I said 'Well, now, hang on here.'"
Lugar continued, "If you want to get into START, let's talk about it, but realistically as Americans, not as some Republican renegade. [I'm] trying to take warheads of Russia [out of circulation] so they won't hit Indiana."
The senator was also ready with a retort for those who've laid into him for confirming President Obama's Supreme Court nominees. Lugar said he looks at a nominee's character and professional qualifications in order to avoid creating a polarizing atmosphere.
"I hope people sort of understand that because otherwise we polarize the Supreme Court business to a point that conservative justices offered by a conservative Republican president -who'll be elected at some point- are going to have trouble," said Lugar.
Trouble in next year's primary is something Lugar's working fiercely to avoid. He doesn't officially need them for at least another year, but he's already collected the signatures of thousands who support his re-election.
"We're just going to get all of our signatures early," he said.
Make no mistake: the signatures and millions of dollars Lugar has reportedly raised are intended as counter-publicity to the Tea Party's loud calls for his ouster.
But what if his expected primary opposition does prevail? Would Lugar fight on with an independent candidacy? He said he has no idea and hasn't even thought about it.
"I'm going to make judgments carefully, of course," said Lugar.
When it comes to possible primary opponents for Lugar, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock and state Senator Mike Delph are the names most often mentioned.
Though he's easily won re-election consistently since being elected to the Senate, Lugar has known political defeat in the past. He lost his first U.S. Senate bid to Democrat Birch Bayh in 1974 and his 1996 presidential bid failed to garner much momentum.
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