U.S. Senate race reaches a key juncture

Then, during the ensuing six days, Mourdock will be under intense pressure to boost his fundraising, which over the past summer has been so anemic that it prompted national groups wanting to challenge Lugar to scope out other candidates such as Delph. After the June 30 Federal Election Commission deadline, Lugar had a commanding $3.5 million to $215,000 cash-on-hand advantage over Mourdock. The treasurer now faces a Sept. 30 third quarter FEC deadline that will draw interest from conservative groups across the nation as Tea Party challenges to sitting Senate Republicans like Utah’s Orin Hatch have failed to attract top tier challengers.

RedState.com’s Erick Erickson is one national group that has endorsed Mourdock, but in a posting earlier this month on President Obama’s reelection chances in Indiana, it said, “Outgoing GOP Governor Mitch Daniels is popular and Mike Pence, the likely gubernatorial nominee, and longtime Senator Richard Lugar will be popular figures on the statewide GOP ticket in 2012.”

Delph had originally said he would wait until after the November municipal elections to make a decision. But last Wednesday, he explained, “After much prayer and family consultation, in addition to discussions with friends and supporters here in Indiana and in Washington, DC, I have determined that my duty is here in Indiana raising my family and serving my current constituents.” Delph told me he has no plans to endorse Mourdock and will not attend the Greenfield confab. He will speak, instead, at a Hamilton County Tea Party rally later that day.

The statement ends speculation that he might make the Republican Senate primary a three-way race, paving the way for a Lugar primary victory.

The Mourdock candidacy gives voters a man who has been a virtual nonstop candidate since 1988, waging 11 political campaigns. He lost the 8th Congressional District Republican primary in 1988, then lost the 8th CD general elections in 1990 and 1992 to U.S. Rep. Frank McCloskey.

He won two Vanderburgh County commissioner races in 1994 and 1998, then ran for Indiana secretary of state in 2002, losing a Republican Convention floor fight to Todd Rokita. In that race, Mourdock saw the office as a political platform, telling the Indiana Daily Student, “This office must be used as a bully pulpit to go after the Democrats.”

In 2004 Mourdock lost an at-large bid for the Vanderburgh County Council. In 2006, Mourdock ran for two offices, first for state auditor, and withdrew after term-limited Treasurer Tim Berry entered the race, and then for state treasurer, when he won the nomination and the general election. He was reelected as treasurer in 2010, leading the state GOP ticket in votes with a million votes. Less than two months into his second term, Mourdock announced he was challenging Lugar.

And while Mourdock has spent much of the year on the campaign trail and attending Republican Lincoln Day dinners, his attendance has flagged at State Board of Finance meetings, which is a key fiduciary duty of the office. During the first three years as Indiana state treasurer, Mourdock was a regular presence at State Board of Finance meetings, attending 18 of 21 meetings that also include the governor and auditor.

But during 2010 and 2011, Mourdock has attended only six of 16 meetings. And since he announced his U.S. Senate candidacy in February of this year, Mourdock has attended only one meeting (in April) out of four meetings.

Former treasurer Marge O’Laughlin never missed a meeting. “That is something I would never want to miss because the actions we took were very important,” said O’Laughlin, a longtime ally of Lugar. “I was being paid by tax dollars and I was always there. I campaigned in the evening.”

Ian Slatter, director of communications in the treasurer’s office, said, “Treasurer Mourdock is fulfilling his duties to the Board of Finance. Every meeting of the Board of Finance since 2007 has been attended by Treasurer Mourdock or his designee. Assigning designees is a common practice used on a regular basis by every statewide elected official, including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.”

When asked how often Mourdock is at the Indiana Statehouse, Slatter said, “Treasurer Mourdock is discharging his duties as State Treasurer. Like any statewide official, when he is required to be out of the office, he is in constant communication via wireless device.”

This contrasts with one aspect of the Lugar record: he has cast more than 12,000 votes in the U.S. Senate and has a 98 percent attendance record.

While this Senate race will ultimately turn on money and issues, expect more scrutiny on how Mourdock and Lugar perform in the offices they now hold.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at bhowey2@gmail.com.)

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