Opinion and Forefront

SOUDER: Larger point overlooked in Senate race

September 29, 2012

Mark SouderThe trick that is easy to play on the average person is to imply that Washington is like your experience in most life situations in a business, church or even city or state government, which tends to be solution-oriented as opposed to establishing the ideological framework and laws for all private business and increasingly all governmental standards.

Politicians expecting to lose try to stress bipartisanship as a tactic. For example, while recently traveling, we saw Democratic Senate candidate ads stressing that the Republican candidate was too extreme, against compromise and bipartisanship, and was a “my way or the highway” candidate.

You didn’t seriously think that Joe Donnelly was the only candidate to use that phrase, did you? Consultants not only work for multiple candidates, but they copy one another.

I understand the ignorance of voters who have other lives, but have never understood how people who are supposed to be professional commentators, or even politicians, fall for repetitious carbon-copy strategies based upon polling.

Part of the reason this seems to be working better for Donnelly than other Democrats is simple: His ads are better than the others. For example, his use of family and basketball are Hoosier touches. Also, first the bleachers and then the car for “my way or the highway” had “stickiness.” He has also stuck with his theme consistently, and done so right after a primary in which a Tea Party candidate upset a senior U.S. senator.

Divisive primaries were common this year, but only one senator lost. So Donnelly had an opening that was unique and he has done the maximum possible to seize the opportunity.

Richard Mourdock hasn’t helped his case. I get asked frequently: Where is Mourdock’s wife? Does he have children? His campaign hasn’t exactly done anything to soften his image and persona, so he was, is and will continue to be vulnerable to “my way or the highway.”

Mourdock also ran as a Tea Party candidate in the primary, a group not celebrated for its love of compromise. The media even tripped Paul Ryan into enough of an indirect criticism of Mourdock that Donnelly could, smartly, use it in an ad.

But Mourdock’s pre-primary and post-primary comments are perceived as inconsistent, which they are not. As I pointed out in the beginning, the role of the legislative branch in Washington is NOT like executive branches, the private sector or local government. It is basically a battle on the major questions of diametrically opposed views.

This is the heart of the matter, not whether you can name a senator you’d do an amendment with (a silly question).

When members of opposite parties co-sponsor legislation, it’s usually because they’re on the same committee or they’re an ideological opposite who wants attention. Sometimes they’re of the opposite political view and need something “liberal” or “conservative” to soften hard edges.

Other times, there is a personal relationship from playing basketball in the gym or having attended the same university, and still other times there is a common personal interest or a mutual interest in geography or constituency (such as recreational vehicles).

This is not about bipartisan solutions to health care, national defense, or taxes and the deficit. One side or another will win. That, of course, has been Mourdock’s point. What the media focuses on in “bipartisanship” are second-tier issues.

Donnelly works well with others on such issues, and Mourdock has done so in the past, as well.

But this Senate race isn’t about the side issues: It is about the big ones. At least, that is what we all originally assumed.•

• Souder, a former business owner and Republican representative of the 4th Congressional District, is a political commentator living in Fort Wayne. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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