Lugar's Last Race: Indiana Senator Doesn't Take Defeat Sitting Down | KUER 90.1

Lugar's Last Race: Indiana Senator Doesn't Take Defeat Sitting Down

May 16, 2012
Originally published on May 16, 2012 5:34 pm

The partisan divisions on Capitol Hill are numerous — but Wednesday morning, about two-dozen members of Congress did something entirely nonpartisan. They ran in a 3-mile race for charity, along with their staffs and teams from the executive and judicial branches and the media (including NPR).

The ACLI Capital Challenge is an annual tradition that dates back to 1981, and one senator has run the race every time: Dick Lugar, R-Ind. But Wednesday's race was also his last.

When the now 80-year-old Lugar first started running in the Capital Challenge, his goal was to be the fastest senator. That was 31 years ago.

"In more recent years, we've had more modest goals — like finishing the race," the six-term senator said with a chuckle a few minutes before the start.

Earlier this month, Lugar lost in a tough primary fight, meaning this would be his last time lining up at the start.

"Just looking forward to a good race, lots of enthusiasm, and try to keep the eye on the ball here," Lugar said, sounding as much like an athlete as a senator.

Lugar navigated the 3-mile course at a pace that wouldn't break any land-speed records. As runners passed by him, they cheered and offered high-fives.

"It's awesome," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "I mean, I can't believe this guy's been doing this for 31 years. We're going to miss him next year, but obviously he's had a great run here."

Thune won the medal for fastest senator for the third time in a row, finishing in 18:57.

"It's a bittersweet time for Sen. Lugar," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, just moments after crossing the finish line himself. "This is his last 5K out here for a good cause."

Lugar was one of four congressional runners this year either retiring or forced out by a primary loss. Cornyn said it's just the nature of the business.

"You either leave voluntarily or involuntarily," Cornyn said. "No one's entitled to these offices. We just have to recognize what a privilege it is to represent our constituents for the time we've been given."

Some 45 minutes after the start, a figure appeared in the distance. He had white hair, an orange shirt and a giant grin.

"Making his way to the finish line as he has every year since 1981," an announcer shouted from a loudspeaker. "A big warm Washington round of applause for Sen. Richard G. Lugar!"

To mark the occasion, the race organizers held up a finisher's tape for the senator to run through one last time.

"Obviously, I would have liked to look forward to a 32nd, 33rd, 34th, but, then again, I have been so fortunate to have these 31 great years in good health and spirits," Lugar said, having caught his breath and still grinning from ear to ear.

The race director, Jeff Darman, said a lot of people asked him if the senator would show up at the race after losing his primary.

"Of course," Darman said. "There's just never any question."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, a story about something bipartisan that about two dozen members of Congress did this morning: they ran. It was a three mile race for charity. Congressional staff joined in along with teams from the executive branch and the media, including NPR. It's an annual tradition that dates back to 1981 and one senator has run the race every year. That's Dick Lugar, the Republican from Indiana.

As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, this was his last race.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When 80 -year-old Dick Lugar first started running in the Capitol Challenge, his goal was to be the fastest senator. That was 31 years ago.

SENATOR DICK LUGAR: In more recent years, we've had more modest goals, like finishing the race.

KEITH: Earlier this month, the six term senator lost in a tough primary fight, meaning this would be his last time lining up at the start.

LUGAR: Just looking forward to a good race. Awesome enthusiasm and try to keep my eye on the ball here.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

KEITH: Lugar navigates the three-mile course at a pace that won't break any land speed records. As runners pass by him, they cheer and offer high fives. Well ahead of him, South Dakota Senator John Thune, this year's fastest senator, finishes in just under 19 minutes, but he doesn't dwell on his own accomplishments.

SENATOR JOHN THUNE: It's awesome. I mean, I can't believe this guy's been doing this for 31 years. We're going to miss him next year, but obviously, he's had a great run here.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: It's a bittersweet time for Senator Lugar. It's his last 5K out here for a good cause.

KEITH: That's Texas Senator John Cornyn moments after crossing the finish line. Lugar is one of four congressional runners this year either retiring or forced out by a primary loss. Cornyn says it's just the nature of the business.

CORNYN: You either leave voluntarily or involuntarily. No one's entitled to these offices, so we're just - I think it's just - we have to recognize what a privilege it is to represent our constituents for the time we've been given.

KEITH: Some 45 minutes after the start, a figure appears in the distance. He has white hair, an orange shirt and a giant grin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Making his way to the finish line, as he has every year since 1981, the only...

KEITH: To mark the occasion, the race organizers hold up a finisher's tape for the senator to run through one last time.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ... round of applause for Senator Richard G. Lugar, once again.

LUGAR: Obviously, I would liked to have looked forward to a 32nd, 33rd, 34th, but then again, I've been so fortunate to have these 31 great years in good health and spirits.

KEITH: The race director says everyone was asking him if the senator would show up at the race after losing his primary. Of course, there was never any question.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.