Democrats are suddenly seeing shades of 2010 in the Indiana Senate race, contending that Richard Mourdock's Republican primary win over senior senator Dick Lugar gives them an opening.
Mourdock owes his victory in large part to voters who felt Lugar had drifted too far towards the center, mirroring a 2010 trend in which Tea Party-affiliated Republican candidates unseated incumbents by tacking to the right. In his victory speech Tuesday night, Mourdock vowed to move the Senate to a more conservative place, underscoring his commitment to unwavering principle.
You never compromise on principles. If people on the far left have a principle they want to stand by, they should never compromise. Those of us on the right should not either, Mourdock said during a Wednesday morning appearance on the CNN program Starting Point. He added that I don't think there's going to be a lot of successful compromise in Congress.
The 2010 cycle produced mixed results: While first-time candidates Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida rode the Tea Party wave to Senate seats, inexperienced and ideologically hardline candidates like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware suffered embarrassing losses that cost Republicans a potential Senate majority.
Democrats are ready to exploit the perception that Mourdock is an extremist who would drag his party further to the right, further cementing the gridlock paralyzing Washington. Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, wrote in a letter after Mourdock won that Indiana citizens are dismayed by the polarizing, extreme forces that propelled him to victory.
Meet the next Ken Buck -- Indiana Republican Senate nominee Richard Mourdock, Cecil wrote. By defeating Dick Lugar and nominating Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party has done it again, handing another strong pickup opportunity to Democrats.
Buck ran on an anti-establishment platform in 2010, defeating the early frontrunner, Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, and narrowly losing to appointed incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet in a race that attracted a deluge of out-of-state money. Cecil, who was serving as Bennet's chief of staff at the time, attributed Buck's loss to the fact that his extremist ideology was rejected by independent voters.
There are parallels between Buck and Mourdock's Senate runs. Just as Buck's candidacy attracted considerable spending by outside groups, conservative organizations like the Club for Growth and the Tea Party umbrella Freedom Works poured a combined $3 million into defeating Lugar.
Mourdock also targeted Lugar for his votes on measures supported by Democrats, including the the massive stimulus package signed into law by President George W. Bush, President Obama's bailout of the auto industry and the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He also refused to back an earmarks ban Tea Party lawmakers offered as a means of cutting wasteful spending.
The Democratic push to portray Mourdock as a hard-right ideologue got a boost from Lugar, who in a bitter concession statement denounced his opponent's unrelenting partisan mindset and warned of reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy.
His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook, Lugar said in the statement. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.
Lugar went on to criticize the Republican party's inflexibility on issues such as climate change and tax increases and to warn that excessive partisanship, fueled by spending by the kinds of outside groups that contributed to his demise, would prevent Congress from accomplishing anything significant.
If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several year, he wrote. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status.