The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Second district House race heavily contested

Adam Llorens | Friday, November 2, 2012

After months of speeches, fundraisers, handshakes and kissed babies, voters in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District will decide whether Democrat Brendan Mullen or Republican Jackie Walorski will represent them on Capitol Hill.

Notre Dame professor and former political reporter Jack Colwell said the race is still close with only four days remaining until Election Day.

“At the start of the race, it was generally regarded as Jackie’s district,” Colwell said. “She unsuccessfully ran against [Sen.] Joe Donnelly in 2010, but came close. She also has a lot of name recognition, where Mullen is virtually unknown.”

Colwell said the Republican-controlled state legislature redrew voting district lines in a way likely to incorporate more right-leaning voters in the district, favoring Walorski’s odds.

“She began as a very heavy favorite, but Mullen came on in an impressive way,” Colwell said. “Whether he can actually catch up and win is far from certain, but he’s made a race of it that’s shown by some of the national groups spending heavily in this district now. Neither side would spend if they figured the race was over.”

With voters looking for more bipartisanship, both candidates stress their willingness to reach across the aisle in Washington, Colwell said.

“Jackie is saying she would be an independent voice and Mullen says he’d be a moderate, along the lines of Joe Donnelly, the Democrat who represents the district now,” he said.

The spending includes funds from political consultant Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, which is backing Walorski. Mullen is getting support from Democratic PACs and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Name recognition has been difficult for Mullen in these new areas. To draw enough votes, Colwell said Mullen must win big in St. Joseph County, the most populous county of the 10 in the district, because his chances in the other nine are not good.

Part of the headwinds Mullen will face throughout the district, Colwell said, comes from his opponent’s associating him with controversial figures and policies in Washington.

“Walorski is trying to portray him as a Washington insider who was recruited by [House of Representatives minority leader] Nancy Pelosi to try and run in the district, and links him to President Obama and Obamacare,” Colwell said. “Mullen tries to link her to the Tea Party, which indeed did support her; Richard Mourdock, the Indiana Republican senatorial candidate who recently made controversial comments about abortion; and calls her a career politician.”

The two candidates’ first and only television debate together occurred Tuesday at WSBT studios in Mishawaka. Mullen and Walorski also held a radio debate in Wabash, Ind., on Oct. 25.

Colwell said Mullen came across as more assertive than Walorski in the debates because of the “prevent defense” Walorski has adopted to preserver her favorable poll numbers.

“Mullen tried to get in all of his points and was critical of Walorski on the privatization of social security,” Colwell said. “Walorski seemed more intent on not making a mistake to preserve what’s assumed to be her lead.”

Colwell attributed some of the contention in the race to the district’s residents’ moderate political leanings.

“Both parties in seeking control of the House will zero in on this district as one that could be won,” Colwell said. “There are a lot of congressional districts across the country where it’s obvious that one party will win, but if it’s close, both sides will come in spending millions of dollars to make television stations happy.”