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November 14, 2012

HOWEY: The positives and negatives of campaign 2012

NASHVILLE — On Election Day, as I headed to my office to watch the returns, I stopped to pick up some Chinese carryout.

Later in the evening, I popped open my fortune cookie and the little ribbon of paper read: “Think like a man of action, and act like a man of thought.”

I wish it would have been an apt credo to describe this election cycle, but if you watched any television over the past couple of months, you know how distorted things became.

This column will serve as a kind of table of contents for other columns I’ll be writing over the next six weeks as we analyze what happened in 2012.

So here are some thoughts:

1. Our next governor, Republican Mike Pence, ran and won with an entirely positive campaign. In fact, this is the third winning gubernatorial campaign in a row that did so, following Gov. Mitch Daniels’ two campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

Pence saw a double digit polling lead slip down to a 4 percent victory as Democrat John Gregg tried to lash Pence to the Tea Party and embattled Senate nominee Richard Mourdock. To be fair to Gregg, both charges were true. Pence had run and lost two negative campaigns for Congress in 1988 and 1990. He knew the risks of doing this in 2012. He should be applauded for winning the way he did.

2. The Mourdock Senate campaign was a disaster. The Tea Party movement overwhelmed the Indiana Republican primary and jettisoned U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar. After Mourdock’s primary victory, he should have retooled his message to attract Lugar voters, independents and women. Instead, he doubled down on his partisan rhetoric and in doing so, alienated those aforementioned groups.

To win in Indiana — even if it is a “red state” — you still have to attract independents and a sliver of the other party. Exit polling shows that Lugar would have easily defeated Joe Donnelly. But in his race against Mourdock, Donnelly won 14 percent of the Republican vote, 49 percent of the independents (compared to 40 percent for Mourdock) and a majority of the female vote. He lost to Donnelly 50 to 44 percent with Libertarian Andrew Horning coming in at 6 percent. Essentially, Indiana Republicans kicked away a U.S. Senate seat.

3. Mourdock’s “God intends” remark at the New Albany debate damaged other Republicans. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had cut a TV ad endorsing Mourdock just before his rape remark in the debate blew up his campaign. The Mourdock quote hounded him the rest of the way.

In the final days of the presidential race, President Obama’s campaign ran ads in Virginia and Colorado featuring the Mourdock quote. Romney lost both states by tiny margins. Pence had called for Mourdock to apologize, then seemed to backtrack and was forced to defend the Senate nominee in the final weeks of the campaign. That was another reason why Pence’s lead shrunk.

4. The current campaign finance system is equally disastrous. When it’s all counted up, there will probably be more than $30 million spent on the Senate race, with most of the money coming in from the Super PACs like Club For Growth, FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity, Majority PAC and other special interest groups.

Donnelly observed, “Here’s what I found so inspiring: You had groups who decided the Indiana Senate seat was a piece of property and they were going to take it. And the people of Indiana said this is not a piece of property. This is ours. And we’re going to determine this election, thank you very much.”

I asked Donnelly if he would work on legislation that change the campaign finance system.

“It is broken,” he said of the Supreme Court decisions on Citizens United and SpeechNow.org. “The Supreme Court decision brought us this system that simply doesn’t work, that has tried to take elections out of the hands of the people of our state. If we can make some reforms in that, I think that would be a tremendous service to everybody.”

We need to support Donnelly on these efforts.

5. Indiana now has two female members of Congress serving together for the first time in history. Republicans Jackie Walorski and Susan Brooks are helping to shatter the glass ceiling in Congress for the Republican Party. This process has been under way at the Statehouse since 2003 with three successive female lieutenant governors in Kathy Davis, Becky Skillman and next, Sue Ellspermann. Now it is continuing at the federal level and it should inspire women at all levels to get involved and run for office.

6. Democrat Glenda Ritz’s upset of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett opens a new era of campaigning. She raised only about $250,000, compared to more than $1.5 million for Bennett, who spent most of his money on TV.

But network affiliate TV viewership is in rapid decline, and Ritz campaign operative Dave Galvin designed a social media program using Twitter and Facebook that looped in scores of teachers who were upset with the Bennett reforms.

Ritz pulled off an astounding upset and became a campaign pioneer.

— Brian Howey columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol

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