Brian Howey: Mourdock's combustible campaign cowboy
Thursday, April 19, 2012 11:16 AM
NASHVILLE, Ind. – From the presidency right down to your very own mayor, the way you conduct yourself, the people you surround yourself with, and your temperament become vital components of a successful candidate and to be a capable public servant.
So it came of little surprise when Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco broke this story on Wednesday: The Indiana Republican Party had cut off the Richard Mourdock Senate campaign from a vital voter database.
This bizarre twist in the Mourdock/Lugar Senate race stems from a March 14 email the AP obtained in which Mourdock campaign manager Jim Holden allegedly told campaign staffers they should “start pillaging email addresses” from a GOP voter database known as Salesforce. “We have a Salesforce login again. Can one of you guys login immediately and start pillaging email addresses like a Viking raider attacking a monestary (sic) full of unarmed monks? Holden wrote. He instructed them to take the information, “download into our house file” and remove duplicate entries.
A Republican official told AP the Mourdock campaign’s access to Salesforce was revoked shortly after the email was discovered. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Mourdock spokesman Chris Conner denied the story, telling AP the email was a “joke” that was “taken out of context.”
Holden has been a lightning rod for not only this campaign, but going back to 2002 when he fabricated a flyer during the Indiana Republican Convention that later exploded in Mourdock's face, causing him to lose the secretary of state nomination.
Party sources I talk to who back the Mourdock candidacy cannot contain themselves when it comes to the way Holden has run the campaign. They say the campaign hasn’t kept county parties apprised, has had an array of scheduling conflicts, has spent too much time concentrating on Tea Party groups as opposed to the county parties, and isn’t honest. They cite Holden’s shoving match with a blogger last June in a Tea Party event in Kokomo that coincided with U.S. Rep. Mike Pence’s gubernatorial campaign kick off.
This flared to a head in the Indianapolis Star’s “Behind Closed Doors” column on April 8: Holden was angered that Marty Obst, a former finance chair for the Indiana Republican Party, was working for a Super PAC that is backing Lugar. Holden sent Obst an email: “I just read about your new job. Congratulations, you are now the newest lowest form of life on earth. I hope you choke on your 30 pieces of silver.” Holden included a link to a Wikipedia article on “Judas Iscariot.”
It prompted Robert Vane, also working for the Super PAC, to make one of the best putdowns of the year: “Jim Holden has colored more books than he’s read.”
The 2002 convention episode involving Holden and Mourdock resulted in the latter becoming the first Republican in modern history to lose a nomination after leading on the first ballot.
Mourdock was in an intense floor fight with Mike Delph, Todd Rokita and Dr. John McGoff for the secretary of state nomination. The Mourdock strategy was to consolidate the “conservative” vote. Rokita was the biggest roadblock.
At the end of the first ballot, Mourdock led Rokita 720 to 670, with Delph in third at 341 and McGoff at 197.
Outside the convention hall, a yellow flyer began circulating that read “Delph Supporters Urged to Vote Mourdock: Conservatives must unite on the second ballot to guarantee strong candidate support in November. The Mourdock campaign congratulates Mike Delph on a hard-fought campaign and invites Delph supporters to join with Mourdock supporters to nominate a conservative on the second ballot!” Tiny letters at the bottom of the flyer read: Paid for by Hoosiers for Richard Mourdock.
The problem? It was a lie.
Delph hadn’t withdrawn, but this lie killed his candidacy. “I will go to my grave thinking I had won on the second ballot,” said Delph, now a state senator from Carmel. “We had been everyone’s second choice. Mourdock found out about that. That’s why they put out the flyer to create the misperception that I had dropped out of the race.”
Not only was it a lie, it backfired, blunting Mourdock’s momentum. He made it clear that a “cowboy” had gone rogue. “I am sick and disappointed down to my gut,” Mourdock told me. Had Mourdock authorized the flyers? “I did not,” he said, his disgust relayed with each short, staccato syllable.
And who was the “cowboy?” Jim Holden.
Maintaining a slim lead at 14 votes on the second ballot, the “Yellow Flyer Incident” seemed survivable. But on the third ballot, Rokita defeated Mourdock 847 to 753.
Delph observed, “There is honor and nobility in running a tough race and losing. There is no honor in a scorched earth worldview. It’s a short-term, flawed philosophy. It will ultimately lose.”
Today, Holden directs the Mourdock campaign that hasn’t been able to raise money. More than 70 percent of Mourdock’s funds come from national groups, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Mourdock has essentially subcontracted almost all vital aspects of the campaign to national groups. Mourdock has spent $400,000 on his own TV ads. Club For Growth has spent $1.2 million on behalf of Mourdock.
And now, as they say, we may be watching history repeating.
Follow Howey on Twitter @hwypol.