When Barack Obama was running for president, there was one Republican besides George W. Bush whom he wouldn’t stop talking about. “Politics don’t have to divide us,” he said at his campaign kickoff in 2007. “I’ve worked with Republican senator Dick Lugar . . .” Obama dropped the name of the senior senator from Indiana during his first presidential debate with John McCain, and then again during their third debate: “If I’m interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden, or with Dick Lugar.” Obama even ran advertisements that showed him with Lugar.
To the surprise of many, the Hoosier State wound up giving its electoral votes to a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964 and for only the second time since the Depression. “I saw those ads,” says Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s Republican treasurer. “My reaction was: You’ve got to be kidding me.” Mourdock assumed that they’d disappear in a day or two. “It was an implied endorsement. I thought Lugar would pick up the phone and ask for the ads to go off the air. That didn’t happen. You can make a case that Obama won our state’s eleven electoral votes because of those ads.”
Democrats may have flourished in Indiana in 2008, but Republicans roared back in 2010. They won every statewide office, picked up two congressional seats, and gained commanding majorities in the state legislature. Mourdock collected more than a million votes as he coasted to reelection. Now he has set his sights on a new office — the one currently held by Lugar. In February, he announced for the Senate.
Mourdock plans to oust the Republican heavyweight by tapping the energy of grassroots conservatives and tea-party activists, repeating last year’s insurgent performances by Mike Lee in Utah, Marco Rubio in Florida, and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Between now and May 8, 2012, when Indiana primary voters head to the polls, the Lugar–Mourdock race could become one of the most bitter and hard-fought Republican contests in the country.
Richard E. Mourdock, who will turn 60 in October, was born and raised in Ohio, the son of a state trooper. After graduating from Defiance College, he moved to Indiana, where he earned a master’s degree in geology from Ball State and spent the next three decades working for oil and coal companies. He started to take an interest in politics in 1984, when he found himself living in “the Bloody Eighth,” a southern-Indiana congressional district that briefly captured the nation’s attention. A Republican, Rick McIntyre, had narrowly defeated the Democratic incumbent, Frank McCloskey, in a tight race that required a recount. Democrats in Washington refused to seat McIntyre, hired their own auditors, and eventually proclaimed McCloskey the winner by four votes. House Republicans marched out of Congress in protest, but they were powerless to change the outcome. “I was outraged,” says Mourdock. “The election was stolen.”
After McIntyre lost a rematch two years later, Mourdock decided to run for Congress. He came up short in the 1988 GOP primary but captured his party’s nomination in 1990 and 1992, losing the general election both times to McCloskey. “Newt Gingrich asked me to try again in 1994, but I’d had enough,” says Mourdock, who might have discovered that the third time’s a charm in what became one of the best years ever for congressional Republicans. Instead, he won a spot on his county commission and served for eight years. In 2002, he failed to get the GOP nod for secretary of state. Four years later, he won election as state treasurer and he is now in his second term.
Mourdock is a mainstream conservative: pro-life, opposed to gay marriage, and committed never to support a tax hike. As a trained geologist who worked in the energy industry, he speaks with authority on the need for more domestic production, as well as the dangers of global-warming alarmism. He’s a history buff, too. Recent readings include Lincoln’s Sword, a study of Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric by Douglas L. Wilson. On the day of our meeting at a hotel in Indianapolis, Mourdock wore a yellow tie with blue script on it. “I can’t remember if this is my Emancipation Proclamation tie or my Gettysburg Address tie,” he said. (A close inspection revealed that it was the Emancipation Proclamation tie.)