Meet Richard Mourdock, Indiana's affable 'Hoosier Headache'

Informed that Democrat senator Dick Durbin referred to him as the “Hoosier Headache,” Richard Mourdock responded with a heartfelt laugh.  “I hope to be a migraine,” he replied.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him handing out “Vote for the Hoosier Headache” T-shirts at his next campaign rally.

Mourdock is a very polite and affable man, which will make it very difficult to portray him as an extremist lunatic.  He arranged a conference call primarily to express his appreciation to bloggers for their assistance with his grassroots campaign, which on Tuesday night succeeded in dislodging six-term incumbent Dick Lugar.  Mourdock wanted to give the online community an early opportunity to discuss the coming general election campaign with him.  While he’s a strong conservative prepared to tenaciously defend his beliefs, he does it without a hint of malevolence. 

He poked at his Democrat opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly, for a rather conveniently timed declaration of support for the House Oversight investigation into Attorney General Eric Holder and Operation Fast and Furious, but it couldn’t be described as a fiery denunciation.  “It’s nice that Mr. Donnelly would want to join Republicans,” Mourdock allowed.  “Bravo for him.”  As to Donnelly’s decision to announce this support on the very day of the Indiana primaries, Mourdock chuckled, “Well, that’s merely a coincidence.”

For his part, Mourdock minced no words, saying that Holder “should have been fired a long time ago.”  He mourned the current Administration as “the only Administration in American history where you can do damage without consequence,” throwing in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in Energy Department funding, and America’s perfect credit rating, at the hands of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, respectively.  Add that to Holder losing hundreds of American guns in Mexico, and you’ve got quite a Lost & Found department.

Mourdock’s approach exemplifies the true Tea Party spirit, and defeats lazy media caricatures of them as driven by thoughtless obstructionism, blind animosity, or – as outgoing Senator Lugar could tell you – mindless partisan loyalty.  His critique of Donnelly was issue-oriented, with votes for the Obama stimulus, ObamaCare, and the bank bailouts prominently featured.

I asked Mourdock what he thought of Senator Lugar’s conduct since the primary, and if he worried that Lugar would lease himself to the Democrats as a freelance critic of Tea Party-infused Republican extremism.  Lugar raised many eyebrows by pointedly skipping a “unity” press conference called by Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, a Lugar supporter who was generous in his praise for the victorious Mourdock. 

Lugar’s office issued a remarkably bitter prepared statement on the night of the primaries, castigating Mourdock for his “unrelenting partisan mindset” and campaign promises of “reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy,” although the concession speech Lugar ended up delivering was rewritten to be considerably milder.  Then, shortly after conceding, Lugar blasted Mourdock for “embracing groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.

Mourdock continuously refuses to say a bad word about Lugar, repeating that he has the “greatest respect” for his primary opponent.  “I am not, nor will I ever put myself in a position to judge Senator Lugar,” he declared.

On the subject of “rejectionism” and Tea Party influence, Mourdock related a meeting he had with North Carolina senator Jim DeMint.  He asked DeMint if running to unseat Lugar was the right thing to do.  “Get me three or four more true conservatives,” DeMint told him, “and we can change the leadership of the United States Senate.”  Mourdock hastened to add that DeMint meant a change of ideas, in which greater conservative strength would influence the leadership’s strategic goals.

Mourdock, in addition to being good-humored, is also a skilled professional politician, who displays an easy command of Indiana’s history and electoral map.  That sets him apart from many insurgent candidates, who mistakenly believe passion and sincerity are a substitute for campaign skill.  Politics is a profession, which means it’s not easy, and extensive homework is required. There is much to be said for a candidate who combines strong ideas with practical knowledge.

Mourdock sees himself riding a “tsunami” across Indiana politics, which have certainly been roiled by the loss of a powerful long-term incumbent Senator.  The powers of incumbency are formidable, so such an event naturally leads to the conclusion that a formerly safe seat is “in play.”  The Hoosier Headache is a formidable player.  His opponents would be unwise to conclude he just happened to be the alternative listed on the ballot when voters decided six terms was enough for Dick Lugar.