Opinion and Forefront

SHELLA: Some take aways from the primary elections

June 2, 2012

Jim ShellaHere are eight things I learned from the May 8 Indiana primary election:

1. Dick Lugar really was out of touch. The senior senator ran a bad campaign and, by the end of it, appeared desperate, pleading with Democratic voters to take a Republican ballot and vote for him. He offered little other than a belief that Richard Mourdock was unqualified.

The ad showing him with Ronald Reagan pointed up how old he is, and that his most productive years had come and gone. His residency problems, coming on the heels of other recent residency challenges, were avoidable.

Did anyone suggest he rent an apartment? Or, did he just not listen?

2. Mourdock had the right message. His final TV commercial was a home run. He looked into the camera and said this isn’t about Lugar, or him. Suddenly, when he said Lugar felt entitled to a seat in the Senate, it rang true.

Mourdock also did a nice job of shrugging off the Lugar campaign attempts to smear his character so that the race remained a referendum on Lugar.

3. David McIntosh has bad political instincts. We learned that in 2000 when he ran for governor on a pledge to cut property taxes 25 percent, promised to produce a plan for accomplishing it, then never did. This time, he couldn’t find a good answer to residency questions. He walked away from an interview with me, but maybe more significantly, quit doing interviews with anyone as a result.

His attack ads targeting both Susan Brooks and John McGoff baffled professionals. Why take on two opponents at once? Why boost their name recognition?

The race was his to lose and he found a way.

4. New and different is good. Two women, Republican Susan Brooks in the 5th Congressional District and Democrat Shelli Yoder in the 9th, each ran for the first time and emerged from crowded primaries. Brooks was 25 points down to McIntosh in the last poll her campaign took, but an ad that pointed out her differences with Wayne Seybold and John McGoff as well as McIntosh, helped her rise to the top.

Yoder somehow sold the idea that a Miss Indiana title from 20 years ago is a political asset. More important, she also outworked her opponents.

5. Persistence pays off. Luke Messer was running for Congress for the third time in his third district, and he won a primary battle easily in the 6th District. He should glide to victory in the fall. If so, I’ll be able to remove his photo from the loser’s gallery that decorates my Statehouse office.

So, you may ask, why did persistence and a third try work for him, when it didn’t work for John McGoff? That gets me to No. 6 on my list.

6. It’s better to be lucky than good. If there had been no school referendum in Zionsville, a referendum that produced a big turnout of Brooks voters, the outcome in the 5th might have been different. Timing is everything in politics. Brooks, Messer and Mourdock had it. McGoff did not.

7. 2012 is not 2008. No presidential politics this time meant no long lines at the polls. GOP hopes for a contested primary here evaporated. After 48 Obama visits and over 100 by the Clintons four years ago, we’re back to the future, returning to flyover status once again.

8. The Tea Party still has a way to go to be a significant force in Indiana politics. Just ask Mourdock. He said he couldn’t have won without the Tea Party but he still won’t call himself a Tea Party candidate. He could choose anyone to introduce him on election night and he chose Ted Ogle, a member of the State Republican Committee.•

• Shella is WISH-TV Channel 8’s political reporter as well as host and producer of the Emmy-nominated “Indiana Week in Review.” Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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