Mark Schoeff Jr.: PAC money propels Bucshon; Walorski barely holds on
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 3:25 AM
WASHINGTON - In September, Dave Crooks was feeling good about his chances to win the 8th CD.
The Democrat said that an internal poll showed him within six points of incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon. Then outside money started pouring into the district to buy ads on Terre Haute and Evansville television.
The avalanche of Super Pac spending on Bucshon’s behalf – including $750,058 from Citizens for a Working America and $114,340 from the American Action Network – was too much for Crooks to overcome.
“We felt the earth move in a very short amount of time – and we just couldn’t climb out of it,” Crooks said in an HPI interview. “They did a great job of tying in the president and somehow connecting him at my hip. It drove my numbers down.”
In the end, Bucshon prevailed, 53.4%-43.1% with 3.6% going to libertarian Bart Gadau. Bucshon also bested Crooks in fundraising -- $1.2 million to $971,978, according to Federal Election Commission filings as of Oct. 17.
“It took me more than a year-and-a-half to raise $1 million,” said Crooks, a radio executive and former state representative. “In less than a month, there was $1 million of outside money hammering away at my name and voting record.”
Crooks also benefited from independent expenditures. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $516,483, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“The outside influence was pretty much a wash,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview.
A cardiovascular surgeon, Bucshon said he won his first re-election because he consistently communicated to voters that he is a fiscal conservative who wants to reform social insurance programs, rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and overturn the health care reform law.
His office also was fastidious in responding to tens of thousands of constituent inquiries.
“We were able to get our message out over the last few years,” Bucshon said. “People appreciated that level of communication with their member [of Congress] and they awarded it with a win.”
Crooks acknowledges he may not have won even if outside spending was not a factor. He was running in a difficult political environment, where President Barack Obama only drew 24% of the vote in Daviess County, where Crooks lives.
“It’s tough for a Democrat to get a [ticket] split in southern Indiana, unless you’re running against someone talking about rape and God,” Crooks said.
He was referring to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly’s victory over Republican Richard Mourdock, whose campaign tanked after he said in a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are God’s will.
Donnelly gave up his 2nd CD seat in order to run for the Senate. The race to replace him was the closest in the state. Republican Jackie Walorski edged Democrat Brendan Mullen, 49% - 47.6%, with libertarian Joe Ruiz taking 3.4%.
The money competition between Walorski, a former state representative, and Mullen also was close. Walorski had raised $1.6 million and Mullen, an Iraq war veteran, had raised $1.1 million as of Oct. 17. Outside groups spent about $600,000 on each candidate.
When every vote counts, ground operations are decisive.
“I attribute the victory to an awesome grassroots network,” Walorski said in an HPI interview. “It’s that team effort that makes the difference in these kinds of races.”
The day after the vote, Mullen was exhausted but proud of what he accomplished as a rookie.
“As a first-time candidate, I’m so thrilled with what we put together,” Mullen said in an HPI interview. “We marched the ball down the field. We turned it over on downs on the one-yard line.”
Despite the negative ads and tough rhetoric that highlighted the contest that stretched from South Bend to Wabash, Walorski suggested that voters were looking for someone who could bridge the partisan chasm in Washington.
“Our message resonated – what we’ve done in the state of Indiana we can do at the federal level,” Walorski said. “We can work across the aisle. That has to be the attitude that prevails in Congress.”
During the campaign, Mullen asserted that Walorski was changing her political stripes to appeal to an electorate seeking moderation. He said that Walorski, the former assistant Republican floor leader, had been a fierce partisan in the Indiana House.
The day after the election, Mullen was conciliatory.
“I salute and applaud Jackie Walorski and her husband Dean for wanting to serve our country,” Mullen said. “I urge her to govern in the moderate voice she campaigned on.”
It sounds as if Mullen will be monitoring whether she does. For the time being, he plans to concentrate on raising his young family and running a business that assists Indiana National Guard members and their families. But he’s not ruling out another run.
“This is not the last you guys are going to see me,” Mullen said. “I’m going to continue to serve our country in one capacity or another.”
It’s also almost certain that the 8th and 2nd districts will be competitive in 2014.