Washington (CNN) - A senior adviser to Sen. Dick Lugar says the Indiana Republican will keep reaching out to tea party groups, even though a leading national tea party organization is now working to defeat him.
"Senator Lugar has met with Tea Party leaders and corresponded with many members in Indiana. He will continue to do so with the hope that they will support his efforts to reduce spending and create a business climate that supports job growth," senior Lugar adviser Mark Helmke told CNN Wednesday.
Helmke's comments come one day after the Tea Party Express, one of the most well known and politically active national tea party organizations, in a letter to supporters, says "as we here at the Tea Party Express prepare to unveil our Target List for the 2012 elections, it is clear that someone like this needs to go – Dick Lugar has become the epitome of what is wrong in Washington, D.C."
The email adds that "we need to build a massive warchest to win more campaigns for constitutional conservatives, and defeat people like Dick Lugar."
In the past election cycle, the Tea Party Express backed conservative candidate Joe Miller in his successful GOP primary challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who ended up defeating Miller in the general election, when she ran as a write in candidate. The group also assisted Mike Lee, who defeated incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah in the primary process and won in the general election. They also backed Christine O'Donnell in her upset of establishment Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware in that state's GOP Senate nomination but she lost in the general election.
The move by the Tea Party Express against Lugar came one day after the six term Republican senator criticized those trying to oust him in next year's primary.
"I've been working systematically for 20 years going to Russia trying to help direct a situation in which we're taking warheads off of missiles every day, destroying missiles that were aimed at us; destroying submarines that carried missiles up and down our coast," he told WANE, a television station in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "I've got to say, 'Get real.'"
The most senior Republican member of the Senate has been criticized by many Tea Party activists and other grass-roots conservatives recently his early public openness to vote in favor of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. They are also upset with Lugar for his willingness to work with Senate Democrats to seek bipartisan solutions for his votes in favor of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees, and for his 2008 vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP.
The Tea Party Express email criticizes Lugar for his TARP vote, saying "Dick Lugar voted for the bailouts. He then voted against the bill that would have refunded the unused TARP bailout funds back to taxpayers."
But Helmke touts Lugar's conservative credentials, saying "many tea party organizations in Indiana "supported Senator Lugar's votes against the stimulus bill, his vocal opposition to the health care bill and his votes to block government overreach through the Dodd- Frank financial regulatory reform bill. They approve of his votes against the various Democratic Party budgets and omnibus spending bills."
Last weekend Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock said that he would soon formally announce a primary challenge to Lugar. And a group called Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate is working to find a consensus candidate to take on Lugar next year.
Some conservatives in Indiana still have a bad taste from last year's Senate primary, when former Sen. Dan Coats won a three-way contest over more conservative candidates former Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman. Coats ended up easily winning the general election over Rep. Brad Ellsworth to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.
Lugar, 78, was first elected to the Senate in 1976 after serving as mayor of Indianapolis. Lugar did not face a primary challenge in 2006 and won 87 percent of the vote in the general election, facing only a libertarian candidate.
The winner of the May 8, 2012, GOP primary would most likely be considered the favorite to win the general election.
CNN, The Tea Party Express and other Tea Party groups are hosting a first-ever Tea Party presidential debate in Florida this fall.
Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PsteinhauserCNN