The 2010 midterms generated more than the usual number of epic GOP Senate primary battles: Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist, Rand Paul vs. Trey Grayson, Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle. One of the biggest, if not the biggest battle of this coming year is likely to occur in Indiana, where six-term incumbent senator Richard Lugar is likely to face a tough push from Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mourdock recently spoke with NRO.
NRO: The first and the most basic question for any candidate: Why are you running?
RICHARD MOURDOCK: Simply stated, because I believe we have to change direction in the United States Senate. As our budget problems show, we keep kicking the can down the road instead of dealing with them. We need to make some hard decisions, and I’m not sure that the body that is there today is ready to make the hard decisions. I think we need some new voices in the Senate.
NRO: What happened to Richard Lugar?
MOURDOCK: First of all, as I always say, I have great respect for Senator Lugar. Anyone who serves almost 50 years in public life deserves the respect of everyone. But I think, and I hear it often, that Senator Lugar is now perceived here in Indiana as having a worldview rather than a Hoosier view. I think there comes a time — and I don’t care who you are, Democrat, Republican, man, or woman — that if you spend enough time in Washington, D.C., you become disconnected from your electorate. I certainly think that’s happened in this case, and that’s one of the reasons we’re running as strong as we are.
NRO: As you travel around the state, do people react more to an explicit ideological argument, that Lugar isn’t conservative enough, or is it more that no matter his politics, he’s been there a long time and it’s time for a change?
MOURDOCK: I hear both sentiments. I’m among the first to note that during the period of the Reagan presidency, Senator Lugar voted more with President Reagan than any other Republican senator. Well, that’s great, but since then he’s also voted for [Supreme Court justices] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, and he was even the only Republican to vote for [President Obama’s deputy-attorney-general nominee] James Cole barely a week ago.
But more than that, it is just the time issue — the second point you raise. I hear it over and over again. Polling shows that among primary voters, Lugar has a 68 percent approval rating; but his hard reelect number — those who are absolutely certain to vote for him — is 31 percent. People respect him, but they no longer feel connected to him, and so they just sense it’s time.
NRO: Obviously, having been in the Senate a long time and being a fairly prominent senator, Richard Lugar is going to have a very large financial advantage heading into this primary. How do you handle the money issue?
MOURDOCK: Certainly we’ll be outspent. But primary races, especially in the last few years, are not so much about money. They’ve been about emotion. He has dollars behind him, and I have a grassroots network that’s fired up and ready to go. I have great tea-party support, and I truly appreciate it, and I know he’s going to try to portray this as a tea-party rebellion. It’s not. The day I announced, three quarters of Indiana’s Republican county chairmen signed on to support my candidacy. Today, we’re announcing that more than half of state Republican committee members have signed on. This isn’t about the Tea Party assaulting the walls of the Republican fortress. This is a rebellion inside the walls. And that, too, is why I feel confident that we’re going to win.
Plus, there are the contacts I’ve made over the years with the Republican organizations in the 92 counties. I never made them with the intent to run for this office. I just did it because I love the party and love the activities. But it’s coming home to me that we’re getting every advantage from that.
NRO: Are there any local issues or controversies going on under the radar that we in Washington might miss? Anything that could end up affecting the race?
MOURDOCK: [laughing] There was until [Gov. Mitch] Daniels made his announcement! Honestly, I think all of us admire the governor so much, that we’re all in a state of depression, if not denial. That was one issue that certainly had the potential to bring some impact to this race, and frankly, it was not going to work to my advantage. Had Governor Daniels run for president, had his name been on the primary ballot in May 2012, it probably would have caused a lot of people who would never [ordinarily] pick up a Republican ballot to do so, and they probably would have been more inclined to vote by name ID and that sort of thing, and they probably would have gone more toward Senator Lugar. But with Governor Daniels stepping away from that, I think whatever benefit there was to that issue for Senator Lugar probably swings my way, with a smaller turnout in the primary.
NRO: So you would have endorsed Daniels if he had run?
MOURDOCK: Oh, absolutely. I’d walk through fire for the man.
NRO: This cycle began with two Indiana Republicans generating a bit of buzz about a presidential bid — both Daniels and Mike Pence, and now neither of them is running nationally. Any surprise that the state had two strong potential candidates, and neither ended up going for it?
MOURDOCK: I wonder what Mike Pence thought when he heard the news. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking, “Oh, darn, maybe I should have gone in that direction instead of running for governor.” I don’t know. It’s not surprising to me because I know Mike Pence. We started in this crazy business in the same year — way back in 1987 — and we’ve been friends that long. I haven’t known the governor nearly as long, but I’ve watched close at hand as he’s accomplished all he’s accomplished. Both of them certainly deserved consideration. I’m not surprised that they both came up at the same time, and honestly, I don’t think either’s action reflected on the other. They both were making the best decision for themselves, and in both cases, for their families.
NRO: 2010 was a good year for Indiana Republicans — they won the Senate race, they won some House races — are you sensing the pendulum swinging back from the mood of 2010? Or is the mood similar to the one we saw in the midterms?
MOURDOCK: I think there’s more frustration, not less. It’s been fascinating to me to watch. I saw some national polling recently, taking a look at all various groups of voters out there, and they found the group that is most dissatisfied right now are Republican primary voters.
That’s not surprising, given that Barack Obama’s in the White House. But it’s frustrating because, yes, we may have taken over the House of Representatives, but we’re still not seeing any real progress because of what’s happening in the Senate. Those voters are still there; they are still energized. In 2008, Barack Obama won Indiana. I’m hearing a lot of talk among tea-party people that they hear the national media thinks they’ve gone to sleep. Believe me, they haven’t. When Barack Obama’s name is on the ballot, they’re going to be back in force in 2012, just as they were in 2010.
NRO: Indiana was one of the least likely Obama victories in 2008. What happened?
MOURDOCK: He spent more in 2008 running for president in this state than Mitch Daniels spent running for governor in the same year. There was that national mood, and people in Indiana were very mindful of history in 2008. Certainly, there was a very, very small margin. Something I hear now, as I speak to Republican primary voters, is the fact that Richard Lugar allowed his image to be used in TV ads for Barack Obama here in Indiana. It was seen as a tacit endorsement, and that kind of small thing certainly contributed to what was a very narrow victory and the assignment of eleven electoral votes to Barack Obama.
The public can sometimes be swayed by small things, such as in a race where there’s an unknown. That was 2008, and Barack Obama is no longer unknown. I think Indiana is going to fall into the Republican column in a very big way in 2012, regardless of who the presidential nominee is.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.