A couple of days after Richard Mourdock upset U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in the May primary, Howard County Republican Chairman Craig Dunn called me. Would I be open to a “clear the air” meeting with Mourdock?
My response was, “By all means.”
You know this story. I did something this cycle that I don’t normally do, which is to openly support a candidate in my weekly newspaper column that reaches about 300,000 readers and Web viewers. I was upfront with my readers. I told them why, and it mostly centered on Lugar’s work dealing with weapons of mass destruction and the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat program, which I believe has made America much safer than it would have been had the Soviet nuclear, biological and chemical arsenal hit the black market.
But Mourdock won, in a landslide. Howey Politics Indiana published two polls that not only showed how politically vulnerable Lugar was among Republican primary voters—an important distinction—but that he would likely lose.
I followed up with Dunn a few days later. Would there be a meeting? Welllll …, Dunn said, Mourdock was open to it, but his campaign manager, Jim Holden, nixed the idea. Not only would there be no meeting, but the Mourdock campaign subsequently dropped me from its media e-mail lists.
In gauging political candidates and campaigns, an important element to me is temperament, particularly with someone who wants to serve in the U.S. Senate.
There were elements of the Mourdock campaign that immediately struck me as not only odd, but potentially destructive. From his February 2011 campaign kickoff onward, he pronounced himself an ardent opponent of bipartisanship. I’ve been covering politics since 1985, and most candidates embrace the concept.
I looked at gridlocked Washington and a polarized Congress and, as an opinion leader/shaper, viewed the Mourdock candidacy with alarm.
This happens to journalists who care about their states and communities. The classic example was Al Spiers, longtime Michigan City News-Dispatch editor, who saw his city being overrun in the post-World War II era by illegal gambling and prostitution. He recruited a sheriff for LaPorte County, helped get him elected, and the hustlers and whores were run out of town. By the early 1960s, Michigan City was honored as an “All-American City.”
In the self-described zealot Mourdock, I saw that kind of character reaching Capitol Hill and becoming transfixed on an issue. This is how a Joseph McCarthy was created: a combination of zealotry, ambition and narcissism, with a bit of megalomania thrown in for good measure.
Mourdock had traversed the Tea Party and was adored. Despite his 50-percent/44-percent loss to Joe Donnelly, he is still admired by the movement, though Greg Fettig of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate was scampering away from Mourdock after the election, finally viewing the man his group endorsed in Greenfield as “flawed” and running a bad campaign.
I will even acknowledge a “Mourdock wing of the Indiana Republican Party,” because it’s really there.
Ultimately, Mourdock was done in by his own words, in his own voice, most famously by his “God intends” remark at the New Albany debate.
Then came the ultimate backlash. The Obama campaign ran radio ads in battleground Virginia and Colorado in the final days of the campaign featuring the Mourdock “God intends” quote. Mitt Romney lost both states by tiny margins.•
• Howey is a third-generation Hoosier journalist who publishes Howey Politics Indiana. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.