Tea Party Gathering Steam: Lugar Poised for Big Defeat?

It sounds as if the Tea Party movement continues to gather steam within the Republican Party: a new poll suggests that Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar could be headed for a big defeat at the hands of a Tea Party challenger:

Embattled Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar has fallen behind his Tea Party challenger in a new poll that finds the veteran legislator in danger of losing after 36 years in office.

The Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll released Friday puts Lugar a stunning 10 points behind state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, trailing 38 percent to 48 percent. It surveyed 700 likely voters from April 30 to May 1 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Voters go to the polls Tuesday.

Lugar has been one of Indiana’s most popular political figures for decades, and had a reputation as a statesman of running clean, positive campaigns. But with Mourdock riding the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and putting Lugar’s political life in jeopardy for perhaps the first time, Lugar fired off a string of negative attacks.

They don’t appear to have worked, and on Friday Lugar was trying a more positive approach in a new TV ad aimed at getting out the vote and stemming Mourdock’s surge.

If Lugar loses — which looks likely — it will be cause for celebration for the GOP’s conservative wing and conservative activists. But it will also add to the growing image of a Republican Party that has no place for moderates or anyone who is willing to try and work with the opposition. It will also likely mean presumptive presidential Republican nominee Mitt Romney will take care to stay to the right in the general election. The talk about moving to the center could be a “given” grounded in a different political era. It will also add to Team Obama’s evolving narrative about the Republican Party being to the right of much of America.

The bottom line if he is defeated and defeated big: it’s another step in the transformation of the Republican Party and the weakening of the concepts of consensus and big tent politicking.