By A.B. Stoddard
07/18/12 05:09 PM ET
Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made “The Colbert Report” last month when he hedged his bets on the eve of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on healthcare reform and mistakenly released three videos declaring his reaction to three different outcomes, each delivered with an identical somber visage before a dimly lit brick wall. Mourdock’s opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), bet big on one outcome a year ago — that Mourdock would defeat Sen. Dick Lugar in a GOP primary, then be defeated this fall, even as Hoosiers voted for Mitt Romney for president and Mike Pence for governor. Four months from Election Day, Romney and Pence hold solid leads but Mourdock and Donnelly are tied in the polls.
On May 8, Mourdock’s Tea Party-fueled victory over Lugar ended the legendary 36-year Senate career of a beloved Hoosier, bitterly dividing Indiana Republicans. Gov. Mitch Daniels supported Lugar, but endorsed Mourdock, Indiana’s state treasurer, after he won. Lugar was tagged a “liberal” and attacked by the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, two groups he accused of targeting incumbents in a “purification exercise” to enhance their influence and scare other Republicans.
In a concession speech, Lugar decried the new threat to the GOP that Mourdock represents. Lugar said “what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook … This is not conducive to problem-solving and governance.”
Mourdock doubled down the next morning, saying on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” that “Bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.” He added that his goal was winning Republican control of Congress and electing a Republican president. “If we do that, bipartisanship means they have to come our way.”
Donnelly, a Blue Dog Democrat representing the 2nd district in northern Indiana, managed to survive the GOP wave election of 2010, despite his support for the healthcare reform law. He has parted ways with the president on gay marriage, the Keystone pipeline, cap-and-trade and a balanced-budget amendment, and criticized Obama’s response to China’s currency manipulation. He said Mourdock’s disdain for compromise is “totally foreign to whom we are as Hoosiers.” Donnelly is also betting Mourdock’s suit to block the federal bailout of Chrysler Inc., a battle he took to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost, has likely turned off tens of thousands of autoworkers and their families throughout Indiana.
Anne Phelan, of Indianapolis, a Lugar supporter who won’t be supporting Mourdock, is urging other moderate Republicans to “take a stand.” She is now a charter member of Republicans for Donnelly who holds Lugar and President George H.W. Bush up as model leaders who knew compromise was essential to governing. Phelan doesn’t agree with Donnelly on every issue, but likes that he crosses the aisle and compromises. “I know there are an awful lot of frustrated Republicans right now; whether that carries Donnelly over, I don’t know. But I’m kind of optimistic,” Phelan said.
Another founding member of Republicans for Donnelly said many Republicans who didn’t turn out to vote in the May primary just assumed Lugar would beat Mourdock and were stunned when he lost. Anne Emison Wishard has never met Donnelly, but plans to donate to him and host a fundraiser at her home this fall to build support for him in central Indiana, where he is less known. “If we can’t listen to the views of both sides,” she said, “then we have nowhere to go.”
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.