Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Indiana, Part 1

On one level, things should get back to normal in Indiana in 2012; that is, their red state status should come shining through. Unlike its industrial Rust Belt neighbors- Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan- Indiana showed a 5.6% increase in population over the decade- not enough to gain a seat, but neither do they lose a seat in the House. It needs to be mentioned that unlike its neighbors, for the bulk of that decade, Indiana was governed by Republicans. While Democrats in those states often cite “the failed policies of the Bush years” as reasons for their demise, the fact is that their demise was beginning even before Bush took office. Indiana is the exception. And the main reason is that under Republican leadership, they improved and then kept their fiscal house in order.

Governor Mitch Daniels is term-limited. Thus, this will be an open race. When Evan Bayh decided to retire from the Senate in 2010, there was speculation that he would run for Governor in 2012. However, those plans went by the wayside when he announced he would not run. That left the Democrats somewhat flat footed and in search of a candidate. One name circulated was Brad Ellsworth who ran for Senate in 2010 and lost to Dan Coats. However, it makes little sense for him to jump back into the political arena against a strong GOP nominee in a statewide race when he lost to a somewhat weaker GOP candidate in 2010. Democrats believe the 45 year old mayor of Evansville, Jonathan Weinzapfel, is the answer, but he has not entered the race. Then Hammmond mayor Thomas McDermott was touted. To date, the only viable candidate to declare their candidacy is former speaker of the Ohio house, John Gregg- basically an Ohio Democratic B-list candidate.

Conversely, it became increasingly obvious when Mike Pence began shedding leadership roles in the GOP in the House that he would make a run for Governor and he did not disappoint. This is his race to lose and there are no indications that will happen.

In 2008, Indiana barely broke for Obama and he won their 11 electoral votes. That will not happen in 2012.

Unlike Bayh, incumbent Republican Senator Dick Lugar will seek another term in the Senate. Perhaps more than any other time in his electoral history, Lugar will face a double challenge to retain his seat. First, the perception of Lugar has taken some serious shots on these pages and other conservative websites. Some special interests have portrayed him as being in bed with Obama. The only area where they “were in bed” was on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. I did have a problem with Lugar’s support of the new START treaty and believed consideration could have waited until the new Congress was sworn in. The bigger point, however, is that this idea that a candidate or incumbent needs to pass every item on some checklist or conservative litmus test lest they be targeted, or labeled a RINO, is ridiculous. It is comments and perceptions like that which cost the GOP probable Senate seats in Delaware and Colorado in 2010. Some of the arguments then are the same today: better a true conservative than a RINO. Really? Michael Bennett, an Obama lackey, is better? Really? Chris Coons, who traces his political guidance back to Marxism, is better?

Obviously, there is some dissension in Republican ranks in Indiana over Lugar. Some of his attempts at “bipartisanship” are viewed as “capitulation.” Second, the main attack on Lugar is that he is not conservative enough. A review of his comments, ratings, endorsements and votes from various sources reveals high marks from conservative groups and low marks from liberal groups. Third, if Lugar goes down to defeat, there is no guarantee the Republican alternative would win now or retain their seat in the future. From how I see it, Lugar is the known commodity that could be dealt with and no closet liberal as some have portrayed him. The alternative, at this point, is nothing but words.

Lugar thought he caught a break when car dealer Bob Thomas entered the primary race. His presence would have split the anti-Lugar vote and made his job easier. However, Thomas backed out, much to the delight of Lugar’s main GOP detractor, Robert Mourdock. However, Thomas was mostly critical of Mourdock when he stated: “Why elect someone to higher office when he is not doing a very good job in the one he’s got now?”

The so-called Romney effect is also to be considered. Obviously, Romney is not exactly the top choice of the Tea Party or conservative activists in the Republican Party. Should he basically wrap up the nomination by the time Indiana’s May primary rolls around, it will lead to low primary voter turnout leaving Lugar’s fate at the hands of the more involved and activist elements in Indiana. Some polls put Mourdock in a statistical dead heat with Lugar at this time among likely primary voters. As the theory goes, if Romney wraps up the nomination by May, Tea Party voters in Indiana will take out their displeasure on the next best thing- Lugar- while more moderate Republicans will just sit out the primary. In this way, the Democrats hope a weaker opponent will advance.

The next logical question is if Lugar loses the primary, is Mourdock strong enough to win the general election? Mourdock has received considerable conservative endorsements. Even our own Erick Erickson of Redstate,com has weighed in saying that Lugar’s time has passed and that Mourdock is the man to replace him given his “track record.” A search over the past several days has failed to find that “track record.” I do have his WORDS, but words do not a track record make. As far as his political track record, I know that he twice lost congressional bids in the 8th District in 1990 and 1992 by 10 and 8 points respectively. He did win an election to the Vandenberg County Commission and then state treasurer in 2006 and reelected to that post in 2010. In 2010, he won with over 1 million votes and 60% of the vote. Do those numbers from 2010 constitute a “track record?”

A look at his campaign website is complete with all the right conservative statements and policy positions that, quite frankly, have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever becoming law. I often rant about the fairy tale utopian world of liberals as not living in reality. But, there are fairy tale utopian conservative worlds also. Does anyone really believe HUD, and the Departments of Energy, Education and Commerce will be eliminated, as Mourdock proposes? On that site, he portrays Lugar as being in bed with Obama. Now that Obama has proposed the elimination of the Commerce Department, is Mourdock now “in bed” also with Obama? Regarding a balanced budget amendment, this is another conservative pipe dream that will solve nothing. There are 49 states with some kind of requirement for a balanced budget, yet there are 44 states with budget deficits, so how would an amendment solve the problem? The fact is that state budgets are “balanced” through accounting gimmicks that makes anything done at Enron look like small potatoes and the same would happen at the federal level.

His website criticizes Lugar for failing to support $1.006 billion in spending or program cuts. Admittedly, every little bit counts, but dedicating a whole page to a dollar amount that addresses a miniscule percentage of the total problem is too much grasping at straws. He attacks Lugar for voting for Obama’s auto bail out, but the vote he cites is actually a cloture vote that also included the AMT. As for Lugar’s support of TARP, that was a Bush program that was later subverted by Obama. Yes, Lugar was one of 33 Republicans to vote for TARP. Had he voted “NO,” he would have been in the same company as such conservative luminaries as Debbie Stabenow, Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden, and Bernie Sanders (sarasm intended). He also asserts that Lugar at one time supported the individual mandate in health care reform in the context of Hillarycare. However, using the very article Mourdock cites as proof, he fails to mention that Lugar supported the notion that all Americans should have health insurance, but that mandating it would create costly burdens and regulations on people and businesses. Regardless, it was the same view staked out by people like Bob Dole, Charles Grassley, Trent Lott and Jesse Helms at the time. Actually, that same article is, ironically, an article in favor of Lugar from the Courier Press. Once again, I fail to see the Mourdock “track record.”

I do see a track record as treasurer of the State of Indiana. Originally elected in 2006, he won reelection in 2010. During his tenure, I venture most of his accomplishments and “track record” is attributable less to Robert Mourdock than to Mitch Daniels. As many newspapers reported, during an unrelated audit tracking a $25,000 check, the state “found” $300 million in corporate tax receipts collected since 2007 that had not been transferred to the general fund. Mourdock elected in 2006. Over $300 million in corporate business tax receipts not transferred to the treasury starting in 2007. Mourdock reelected in 2010. That $300 million discovered in 2011. Perhaps, if Mourdock was doing his elected job, the $300 million would have been discovered earlier. That is the only “track record” I could find on him.

I did not set out to make this entry anti-Mourdock or pro-Lugar. That is for the voters of Indiana to decide and that decision should be supported and respected. But here is the problem as I see it. There are two types of conservatives- the ideologue and the pragmatic. Either can win with an “R” after their name in states like Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, or even Texas. But, Indiana is not one of those states; they are more pragmatic with pragmatic conservatism running in their Hoosier blood. As Exhibit A, I offer the pragmatism of Mitch Daniels and his reforms. As Exhibit B, I offer Democratic ex-Senator Evan Bayh, a more centrist Democrat, who would have crushed Dan Coats in 2010 had he run. As Exhibit C, I offer their close vote for Obama in 2008- a willingness, if you will, to give the other side a chance. True, Obama blew it when his big government brand of liberalism came shining through. The GOAL is to take control of the Senate in 2013 and the voters of Indiana need to keep that in mind. The Democrats are going to run a rather conservative (for a Democrat) candidate for Senate in 2012. Why put control of the Senate at unnecessary risk when the prize is within sight?

Next: Indiana, part 2