When Indiana primary voters go to the polls on May 8, they should remember that in 2008 Dick Lugar verbally embraced Barack Obama and gave Obama bipartisan cover at a critical time in the campaign, so much so that Lugar became a prominent fixture in Obama campaign ads in key battleground states.
The history of Obama and Lugar goes back at least to 2005, when the new Senator Obama and Lugar took a trip to Russia together.
In 2008, Lugar became Obama’s poster child for Obama’s supposed foreign policy credentials and willingness to work with Republicans:
Recent polls show that more people trust Senator John McCain on national security matters than do Senator Barack Obama. So, for the second day in a row, the Obama campaign has introduced a new television commercial stressing his grasp of continued terrorist threats.
The campaign is going on the air with the 30-second spot on the same day that Senator Obama held a national security summit in Indiana. The presumptive Democratic nominee appeared at the event with former senator and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn, and Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.
Another Indiana senator, Richard Lugar, makes a brief cameo appearance in the new ad — albeit in a non-speaking part. (He is pictured in a still photo next to Senator Obama). Mr. Lugar, a Republican, also played a role in the ad the Obama campaign began running on Tuesday. That commercial highlights Mr. Obama’s work with Mr. Lugar on nuclear proliferation issues.
Here is one of the ads, run in 17 states including Indiana by the Obama campaign:
How did Lugar react to the Democratic candidate using his image and name in a campaign ad? Did Lugar object, since he technically had endorsed McCain and since the ad might mislead viewers into thinking Lugar supported Obama?
No, Lugar — who was whispered to be a potential Obama running mate — was okay with the ad:
“He did” reach out, Lugar said. He explained that in 2005, Obama asked if he could join Lugar on a trip to Russia and other countries to visit sites under the Nunn-Lugar program.
“After that, we had legislation that we cosponsored together which passed” dealing with dangerous missiles. “So I am pleased we had that opportunity to work together,” Lugar said. “I’m pleased we had the association Sen. Obama describes.”
But Lugar made clear up front that while the ad was accurate, and he’s comfortable with the association, “There is no chance I will consider running with Barack Obama.”
At a critical juncture in the campaign, less than a month before the election, Lugar explicitly came to Obama’s aid on foreign policy which was considered an Obama weakness being attacked by McCain, Obama’s ‘Diplomacy’ Wins a Republican Endorsement:
The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee parted ways with his party’s presidential nominee Wednesday by endorsing Democrat Barack Obama’s approach to diplomacy.
In a lengthy speech at the National Defense University, Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar weighed the benefits of talking to foreign leaders, including U.S. enemies, against other actions, such as military force. The issue marks one of the sharpest divides between Obama and John McCain, who has called the Democratic nominee naive for suggesting that he would sit down with leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Lugar, however, praised Obama, noting that isolation often does not resolve contentious issues.
“He correctly cautions against the implication that hostile nations must be dealt with almost exclusively through isolation or military force,” Lugar said in a prepared remarks released before his speech. “In some cases, refusing to talk can even be dangerous.”
(Lugar again would back Obama’s approach to Iran in June 2009 when massive protests erupted, but that’s for another post.)
How important was Lugar’s mid-October 2008 foreign policy endorsement of Obama? Here’s how a blogger at Daily Kos reacted, Senator Lugar endorses Obama! For Presidency or just foreign policy endorsement:
All I can say is awesome!!!!
A group calling itself Republicans for Obama proclaimed: Republican Richard Lugar endorses Obama.
Michael Crowley at Time relates the “Bromance” between Obama and Lugar:
It was Washington’s most charming bipartisan bromance. When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, he was eager to embrace Indiana’s Republican Senator, Dick Lugar. Obama dropped Lugar’s name into his announcement speech, featured him in a TV ad, and cited him as a key foreign policy influence in a debate. Hugging Lugar, the widely-admired chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, allowed Obama to show he could work with Republicans—as he and the Hoosier did on a 2006 nuclear nonproliferation bill—and that he had some foreign policy chops. And while Lugar had officially endorsed John McCain, he didn’t spurn Obama’s love, calling himself “pleased” at the association and even defending Obama’s controversial proposal to negotiate with the leaders of hostile foreign nations….
Lugar also was suggested as a possible Secretary of State nominee for Obama in the days leading up to the election:
Dick Lugar, is Indiana’s Republican, senior senator and has frequently been named as a top choice for Obama’s secretary of state. Lugar is regarded as a foreign policy expert and has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, now chaired by Joe Biden. Obama recently stoked cabinet predictions by citing Lugar at the final debate as one of the people “who have shaped my ideas [on foreign policy] and who will be surrounding me in the White House.”
For his part, a spokesman for Lugar said that he had no interest in serving in the White House…
Crowley notes, however, that in 2012 Lugar is running away from his Obama bromance as he faces a challenge from conservative Richard Mourdock:
As the candidates approach a May 8 primary likely to be dominated by conservative activists, Lugar is fending off the charge that he is “Obama’s favorite Republican,” and explaining his votes for the bank bailouts, a debt-limit hike and various earmark-filled spending bills that make the Tea Partiers boil the political waters.
That’s why it’s now splitsville for Lugar and Obama. The typically mild-mannered Senator now trashes the President in his television ads, declaring Obamacare unconstitutional and calling Obama’s budgets reckless deficit-busters. Today Lugar even talks as though he and the President were never an item: “We have not had a close relationship at any point,” he told me in an interview for my story in this week’s print edition of TIME. “I was never hoping to be close to him.”
When Hoosiers see two names on the ballot, Lugar and Mourdock, remember which one had an Obama bromance, which one gave cover to Obama in 2008, which one undermined the Republican nominee in 2008 just three weeks before the election, and which one brought you Barack Obama and all that ensued.
Then vote for the other guy, Richard Mourdock.