Richard Mourdock – Why He Lost
I want to start by thanking Richard Mourdock for his courage. Not only did he choose to run for office, but he chose to take on an Indiana institution, Dick Lugar, in the primary. I was a vocal supporter of Mourdock early on because I believed his heart was in the right place and that he wanted to go to work for Hoosiers. On the issues there was no questioning his conservative credentials. I believed he would be a great Senator for Indiana. What I didn’t anticipate was an inexperienced campaign staff, party division, and a divisive comment that would sink his campaign.
Richard Mourdock did himself no favors in assembling the campaign team that he did. His campaign manager, Jim Holden, was not up to job of managing a statewide campaign for U.S. Senate. In the primary there was an email that surfaced where Holden made the following comment regarding access to a GOP database, “Can one of you guys login immediately and start pillaging email addresses like a Viking raider attacking a monastery full of unarmed monks.” This lack of professionalism plagued the campaign throughout the primary and the general election. Holden wasn’t able to match the savvy of the Donnelly campaign down the stretch. After the primary, the Mourdock campaign hired someone with vast experience to be their political director. While this was encouraging news, he was largely ignored by everyone else within campaign and his advice fell on deaf ears. The field staff consisted of five people that each had a region to cover. All five were political neophytes with little to no experience. This was evident throughout the campaign as they struggled to recruit volunteers to do the heavy lifting. There were also problems with the communications department. This was on full display when a poll came out a few days before the election that showed Mourdock behind by 11 points. Instead of rallying the troops to keep fighting, a full melt down ensued. The person that released the poll was attacked. A bizarre conference call with reporters took place. The official twitter account of the campaign blasted anyone and everyone associated with the poll for an entire day. I’m assuming Brose McVey was responsible for these actions. This wasn’t his first rodeo in politics so these actions were confusing. Never has an honorable man like Richard Mourdock been so poorly served by a campaign staff.
Richard Mourdock won the primary by over 20% in what was a very negative campaign between him and Senator Lugar. After the primary, Mourdock continued to run his campaign hard to the right. The party was divided. Many Republicans still respected Lugar and were in shock that he would no longer be representing them. Mourdock should have spent the summer courting these folks, reassuring them that he would be an acceptable alternative for them. This never happened. Mourdock didn’t take the time to earn these folks trust, and thus their vote. Many of these folks voted straight Republican with the Senate race being the only exception. Some would say these folks betrayed the party. I think the better question is what did Mourdock do to earn their vote? Mourdock had the base secured. The conservative wing of the Republican party was energized and motivated to vote for Mourdock. A summer filled with activities that appealed to the moderate wing of the party could have yielded a different outcome on election day. One of the first rules of politics is you can’t win with just your base. You must obtain broad support to get to 50% plus one. Donnelly did this and that is why he won. Say what you want about Donnelly and his ads, but he was effective in appealing to moderates and independents.
We all know about The Comment and we are all tired of hearing about The Comment. However, it must be addressed. The race was close leading up to the debate. The comment on abortion and rape sealed Mourdock’s fate. The moderates and independents had their fears about Mourdock confirmed with his comment on abortion and rape. I know I have had time to think about this, but the best answer Mourdock could have gave would have been, “My position on abortion is the exact same as that of the church Congressman Donnelly attends.” He would have turned that question around and put it back on Donnelly and his support of Obamacare. Instead he made that comment and we heard ads from the left that said Mourdock believes rape is the will of the God. While that is disingenuous, it was effective in swaying the electorate. Many conservatives rallied behind Mourdock, but again, you can’t win with just your base. With jobs and the economy being the top issues this year, Mourdock should have never even addressed that issue. I applaud him for being pro-life, but he should have given a vague answer and discussed how his focus was getting folks back to work.
I have tremendous respect for Richard Mourdock. I believe he is an honorable man and here in Indiana we are fortunate that he will continue to be our state treasurer. There are some lessons to be learned from this race. Never underestimate the importance of an experienced and professional staff. Always strive to build a coalition of broad support for your candidacy. Focus on the most important issues, and know when a position you have may be controversial to the masses. The results of this race have been tough for many to accept. This isn’t the end of the world. We will all have to hold Joe Donnelly accountable and make sure he represents the desires of Hoosiers.