You remember Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), don't you? He's that guy back there by the dust-covered potted plant in the Senate (that would be Sen. Lautenberg), who's been hanging around for 36 years.
So what's new?
Mr. Lugar, who has not had a primary challenger since he first won election in 1976 and last contended with a race where the margin was close in 1982, is locked in a Republican primary fight for the seat he has held for six terms with the May 8 election fast approaching. A poll conducted late last month, the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, showed Mr. Lugar leading Richard E. Mourdock, the state's treasurer, 42 percent to 35 percent among likely primary voters, an advantage that is within the poll's margin of sampling error of plus or minus five points.
Why is Lugar in a race?
Tea Party groups and organizations like the Club for Growthand the National Rifle Association are questioning his conservative credentials, some pointing to positions he has taken in favor of the bank bailout, President Obama's Supreme Court nominees, the New Start nuclear arms control treaty, and more.
You can go here for a rundown on Lugar's voting record over the years.
I'm less interested in his specific record (it's not all bad, but there's a lot of junk in that, including support for No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and the erosion of civil liberties) than in the fact that folks such as him and Battlin' Orrin Hatch in Utah (who is "doggone offended" by "radical libertarians") are at least being forced to actually get off their duffs to tell voters why they deserve a lifetime sinecure on the public dole.
That's as it should be in, well, a democracy. And it shows that contrary to many accounts, the tea party and related groups interested in cutting spending and the size of government, haven't gone away. These groups, bless their pointed little heads, are still willing to rock the boat, even when a "safe" seat for the phoney-baloney small-government GOP is on the line.
Independent voters—those not slavishly tethered to one party or another—will determine this and every other election for decades to come, just as independent shoppers decide the fate of brands in cars, electronics, you name it.
As Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) could tell you (he told Matt Welch and me, right here!), the GOP will become vibrant to the extent it starts taking cues and positions from the libertarian part of its members. And you know what? The same would be true for the Dems.
Read more in that vein in Matt Welch and my The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.