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Opening Arguments

Why, yes, this is a real horse race

Can the Tea Party beat Dick Lugar? Yes, it's quite possible, says Allysia Finley, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer and assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com

He can articulate conservative principles and make the moral argument for lower taxes, less spending and scaled-back entitlements. Unemployment benefits, he says, are "becoming a lifestyle" that are "changing the work ethic of Americans" and are "a dangerous thing for our economy."

And while foreign policy is Mr. Lugar's strong suit, Mr. Mourdock held his own in their last debate when pressed on how he would deal with rogue regimes. "I think there are times we need to act unilaterally to put the pressure on those nations," he said before taking a swipe at the senator's insistence on getting Russia and China on board.

[.  .  .]

Mr. Mourdock isn't endearing himself to the party's elders by picking a fight with Grandpa. But Republicans need fighters in the Senate, not diplomats. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have shown no intention of negotiating in good faith with Republicans. So accomplishing tax and entitlement reform will require the GOP to win the war of public opinion. Indiana's gutsy and articulate tea partier is just the kind of guy Republicans need on the frontlines.

This is a point I've been trying to make -- that we need more of a fighter in the Senate than a diplotmat -- though certainly not as well. Lugar is an old-school gentleman, and he's still playing by the gentlemen's rules that prevailed when he first went to the Senate. But the other side is playing by a different set of rules now, and anyone who doesn't play by those rules loses the game before it even starts.

As the race tightens, Lugar is really bringing out the big guns. Here's his latest ad, featuring Gov. Mitch Daniels' endorsement of the senator:

"The truth can take a beating in campaign time and this year it’s Dick Lugar on the receiving end. It’s funny in a way, these folks from elsewhere, here telling us who’s a real Hoosier,” says Daniels. “The way he votes, the way he lives, I can’t think of anyone so reflective of the thinking, principles, and ideals of our state.”

I appreciate the point about "folks from elsewhere" trying to tell us who's a real Hoosier. Lots of irony there. But the complaint about "the truth taking a beating" belongs more with the Lugar camp than the Mourdock one. Insofar as Mourdock's ads can be called "wrong," they mostly involve interpretations and nuance. Does Lugar's residency in Virginia mean he has lost touch with Hoosiers? Do his votes reflect a drift from conservatism? We are free to disagree -- it's the conclusions that are in question, not the facts that lead to them. Lugar's ads, on the other hand, are abosolutely vicious. When ads suggest Mourdock is nothing but a tax cheat who can't be trusted and a lazy treasurer who doesn't do his jobs, that's way beyond being a creative interpretation of facts. It's character assassination.