By ERIC BRADNER
A month after his 21-month bid for the U.S. Senate failed, Richard Mourdock is blaming the decision voters made on news media.
That was made crystal clear in a fundraising solicitation recently blasted out to his top donors in hopes of retiring his campaign debt. Signed by Mourdock finance director Ashlee Walls, the email starts by discussing Republican defeats across the country.
“In our case, we found our campaign caught in the liberal media cross hairs. Never has Indiana seen a more obvious example of media bias by reporters more interested in defeating conservatives than reporting the news,” the email said. “We fought back and invested heavily in a last minute push to combat the slew of false accusations Democrats and the liberal media churned up to distract voters.”
Political momentum swung so quickly from 2008 to 2010, and then again from 2010 to 2012, that anyone paying attention could get whiplash. There were certainly surprises along the way, but in Indiana’s U.S. Senate race, they were engineered by the candidates.
To the extent that journalists reported what Mourdock said and did, and how both influential members of his party and the public at large reacted, yes — his campaign was hurt by the media.
But he lost because he ran a 2010-style campaign two years too late, and did it with hubristic confidence.
He said he’d be a “zealot” who would never forsake his principles in the name of bipartisanship. Yet after two years of dysfunctional government, voters were grasping that all-or-nothing politics is no way to move the country forward.
He believed Indiana’s conservative base would carry him past the finish line. Yet the state treasurer never understood that the number of votes he won in the primary added up to just 16 percent of the general electorate.
He carried himself as a candidate infused with the tea party’s energy. Yet poll after public opinion poll showed that Americans now view the tea party in a less favorable light than they did two years ago.
And two weeks from election day, Mourdock’s remarks linking rape to God’s will reminded voters of all the reasons they weren’t sure they could vote for him — and then made things worse with an odd non-apology the next day.
That’s why he lost.
The first day of Mourdock’s campaign — when he launched a primary challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar — he bashed the man who helped launch a program that has led to the destruction of more than 7,500 nuclear warheads for being a “globe-trotter.” He sent out a list of six specific policies that Lugar supported and he opposed, and offered the conclusion that “Dick Lugar has forgotten what it means to be a Republican.”
The last day of his campaign, as he admitted defeat, he complained that he wasn’t the only one who got to play offense. He said that “as I will look back on this night — over the weeks, the months, the years ahead — I will look back knowing that I was attacked for standing for my principles.”
Indiana voters didn’t seem distracted, as Mourdock’s fundraiser put it, when they handed Mitt Romney a clear victory over President Barack Obama or when they chose to keep the governor’s office in Republican hands. They seemed quite attuned when they dealt education reforms a blow by ejecting State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
The media provides amplification, but candidates are responsible for the campaigns they run.
Mourdock is a good man with a big heart, but this year, voters decided he was the wrong candidate for the job. What happens moving forward will largely hinge on whether he and his team can accept that result with grace.
— Eric Bradner is the statehouse bureau reporter for the Evansville Courier & Press.