Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (right), accompanied by the committee's ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar (left), speaks as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies in February.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (right), accompanied by the committee's ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar (left), speaks as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies in February.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Richard Lugar’s loss in his Indiana Republican primary on Tuesday gave Senator John Kerry the chance to move up at least a slot in US Senate seniority.

It also prompted the Massachusetts Democrat to vent anew against what he sees as increasing polarization in American politics.

Lugar, who was the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after serving in the chamber since 1977, lost to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who had been backed by an active Tea Party constituency. Kerry is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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“This is a tragedy for the Senate and the loss is particularly felt by all of us who have been privileged to serve with Dick on the Foreign Relations Committee,” Kerry said in leading off a 534-word statement on the election results. “It’s a blow to the institution during a period when the institution itself has been strained.”

The statement echoed a speech Kerry delivered in March to The New England Council, after Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, announced her retirement after the end of year.

“Because of an ideological rigidity and stupidity in Washington, we’re having an impossible time doing the most simple things in order to build our nation to be competitive, to do what every citizen in America wants us to do, which is to create jobs, and put people to work, and be strong,” Kerry, a five-term senator who was his party’s 2004 presidential nominee, said at the time.

With Lugar’s departure, Kerry will move up to No. 9 in Senate seniority next January. If Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, also loses his reelection campaign this year, Kerry will move to eighth in seniority when the 113th Congress is sworn in next January.

Kerry has vowed to seek another six-year term in 2014, but he has also been mentioned as the likely choice for secretary of state should President Obama win reelection this fall.

In his statement after Lugar’s loss, the state’s senior senator paid tribute to his colleague.

“Whether he was serving as chairman or ranking member of our Committee, wielding the gavel or working the floor, Dick’s approach to governing was always the same: he wanted to find serious answers to some of foreign policy’s most vexing questions,” Kerry said.

He lauded Lugar’s effort with former Senator Sam Nunn on a 1992 law to provide funding and expertise to the former Soviet Union to dismantle nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Kerry also commended Lugar’s work on the 2010 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty signed by Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“This is a tough period in American politics, but I’d like to think that we’ll again see a United States Senate where Dick Lugar’s brand of thoughtful, mature, and bipartisan work is respected and rewarded,” Kerry said in his statement. “That kind of seriousness of purpose should never go out of fashion.”