‘Don’t take the risk,” warns the American Action Network in a new television ad against Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock. The 501(c)(4) organization is spending $590,000 on advertising to thwart the Republican insurgent’s campaign against incumbent senator Dick Lugar. The reason? GOP strategists worry a Mourdock victory would jeopardize the GOP’s chances at winning control of the Senate.
The attacks themselves aren’t particularly strong. Mourdock has problems “showing up for work,” the ad claims: “Mourdock skipped 66 percent of his official board meetings.” Yes, Mourdock usually doesn’t attend the state Board of Finance meetings personally, but neither does ex-officio member Governor Mitch Daniels. “Since 2007, the State Treasurer’s Office has been represented by Treasurer Mourdock or a senior staff member at over 99% of the board meetings for which he or his designee serve as a member,” Mourdock’s campaign has noted in response. (For what it’s worth, Democratic senator Sherrod Brown’s campaign is making the exact same allegation against Republican challenger Josh Mandel, the state treasurer of Ohio.)
The ad also intones that “Mourdock took an illegal tax break three years straight.” Yes, Mourdock claimed homestead tax credits for both of his homes — a house in Evansville, Ind., and a condominium in Indianapolis — but he applied to cancel the credit after the error came to his attention some time ago. And last year, an official from the county auditor’s office admitted to an error in processing Mourdock’s cancellation.
Finally, the ad charges that Mourdock’s “big bet on junk bonds” lost “Hoosier pensions and other funds” millions. Yes, those junk bonds may have gone belly-up, but “below investment grade” bonds make up only 3.3 percent of the state funds. Overall, the state’s finances are just fine. “Since Treasurer Mourdock took office in 2007, he has earned over $1.3 billion in investment income on the state’s cash,” the Mourdock campaign says in a fact-check feature on its website. “The State Police Pension Fund, the only state pension fund managed by the Treasurer’s office, returned 19% last year.”
The Republican strategists against Mourdock are probably aware of the weakness of their charges. Their real motivation, it seems, isn’t a personal animus toward the candidate, but an anxious concern about the GOP’s prospects for taking control of the Senate in 2012.
If Lugar wins the primary, he will steamroll his Democratic opponent, Congressman Joe Donnelly, in November, according to recent polls. One poll, done at the behest of Indiana Values, a super PAC supportive of Lugar, shows him beating Donnelly by 26 points, 58–32. Mourdock ties with Donnelly at 42 percent. Another poll, by the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group, shows Lugar beating Donnelly by 13 points, 42–29, and Donnelly beating Mourdock by 34–28.
Behind the scenes, Republican strategists aren’t so much worried that Mourdock will lose as they are by the fact that his candidacy would require expending resources in Indiana that they would otherwise be able to use in other races. That could be why Dan Conston, communications director for AAN, warned in the press release announcing the ad: “We’re investing in this race now because a Mourdock primary victory would only embolden Harry Reid and his liberal allies this November.”
Mourdock’s supporters reject this premise. Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for the pro-Mourdock FreedomWorks, tells NRO, “Mourdouk is a good candidate. He’s a strong communicator, and his fundraising is starting to pick up. Lugar is a very weak candidate; he doesn’t seem like he can remember his own votes that he took.”
Moreover, Steinhauser adds, “it’s not surprising to see the American Action Network, a Republican-establishment organization, backing the Republican establishment.”
Ted Ogle, chairman of the Indiana 6th congressional district’s Republican party, agrees. “Mourdock can beat Joe Donnelly. Indiana is going to be a strong Republican state this time.”
Nonetheless, Mourdock will almost certainly need to spend more money than Lugar to keep Indiana red, as he lacks Lugar’s near-universal name recognition. The conservative faithful may think the switch is worth the effort, but they will have to overcome the establishment first.
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.