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Supporters say Mullen is willing to compromise

Second District U.S. House hopeful Brendan Mullen, a moderate Democrat from South Bend, has his supporters and his critics.
Posted on Aug. 9, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Editor’s note: Today, Aug. 9, we take a look at Democratic U.S. House hopeful Brendan Mullen, following Wednesday’s look at Republican U.S. House hopeful Jackie Walorski. Both are vying for Indiana’s 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which covers Elkhart and St. Joseph counties and all or parts of eight other north central Indiana counties.

In passing judgment on Brendan Mullen, there’s no voting record to examine.

The South Bend Democrat’s campaign for Indiana’s 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is his first run for office.

That, though, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least as he sees it. His campaign plays up his lack of an electoral past as a plus, in conjunction with his service in the U.S. Army, which included a tour of Iraq, and his business background, helping launch two firms.

“We’re proud that Brendan’s record includes creating jobs and serving our country,” Andy Reynolds, Mullen’s campaign manager, said in an email.

Alluding to the Republican in the race, who served three terms in the Indiana House and vied unsuccessfully in 2010 for the 2nd District spot, Reynolds continued: “Hoosiers are sick of career politicians like Jackie Walorski.” Mullen — who characterizes himself as a conservative Democrat, “pro-life and pro-gun” — would serve no more than six years in the House, according to Reynolds.

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore and Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, both Democrats and both Mullen backers, liken the 2nd District candidate to Joe Donnelly. Donnelly, the conservative Democrat from Granger currently serving in the post, is running for the U.S. Senate this cycle.

Like Donnelly, Mullen touts what he says would be his ability to bridge the partisan gap in Washington, D.C., and backers like Moore and Kauffman say that’s what’s sorely needed. Walorski, too, has said she’d be a bridge-builder in Washington.

Mullen would be “more inclined to compromise on some things than I see the other side doing,” said Kauffman. “I think we need people who are willing to work across the aisle.”

Reynolds noted that Mullen’s wife, Suzanne, is a GOP’er. According to Andrew Straw, former Green Party hopeful for the 2nd District seat who researched the matter, she served as legal counsel for Republicans on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Bipartisanship starts at home for Brendan, he’s married to a Republican,” Reynolds said.

PART OF THE ‘MACHINE’

Though he hasn’t served in the public eye before, Mullen isn’t lacking for critics.

Some have blasted Mullen’s ties to Washington, D.C., the city repeatedly condemned by both GOPers and Democrats as the capital of political gridlock. Mullen, a 2001 West Point grad, lived there about five years after leaving the Army in 2006, moving back to South Bend in 2011 after announcing his 2nd District bid.

Earlier this year, the National Republican Congressional Committee dug up records showing that Mullen and wife Suzanne owned three homes between them in Washington. Mullen’s Indiana voter registration form, filled out last year, listed the St. Joseph County address of his father as his own.

“With multiple homes in D.C. and none in Indiana, Washington insider Brendan Mullen is already swimming in the swamp with his big-spending Democrat friends,” an NRCC spokeswoman said in January. “Indiana voters have gotta wonder: If Mullen’s elected, will they ever see him again?”

Since then, Mullen and his family, including a daughter and another child who’s on the way, have purchased their “30-year home” in Granger, according to his campaign. Suzanne Mullen works as a lawyer in Elkhart.

Either way, Mullen’s campaign has rejected any suggestion that he was in Washington, say, to lobby. While in the Army, he had been based, in part, at Fort Belvoir just south of Washington in Virginia. Thus when he left the military in 2006, he decided to remain in the area because it was familiar.

Dale Stickel, chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Party, remains skeptical and figures Mullen must have been associated somehow with the federal government apparatus.

As a civilian in Washington, Mullen helped a friend launching a firm, which the candidate’s website says eventually grew to 110 employees. He then launched his own firm, MKS2, which provides consulting and other services to the military and federal government. Operating here in Indiana with returning military veterans, it counted six full-time employees in Indiana in 2011 and around 30 part-timers, according to the Mullen campaign.

“Believe me, you do lobbying to get those federal contracts,” Stickel said.

And even forgetting about the Washington connection, Stickel called Mullen a product of the “St. Joseph County Democratic machine.” The Democratic Party is strong in the neighboring county and Mullen’s Dad, Peter Mullen, serves there as St. Joseph County auditor, an elected post.

BROAD, GENERAL COMMENTS

Mullen would leave the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care plan, in effect, though he has plenty of reservations about it. He worries how it would impact small businesses and in a press release in June said “both sides need to come together to fix this law.”

He’s voiced alarm at the profits oil companies generate at the expense of “Main Street” and expressed support for maintaining the Social Security and Medicare systems as they are. He’d push to cut congressional salaries by 10 percent, freezing lawmakers’ pay until they balance the federal budget, and, like most vying for office, decries “gridlock in Washington.”

At times, though, he’s offered just broad, general comments on the issues, focusing instead on his military and business experience and the values he says he inherited growing up in Indiana.

“As a husband, father and graduate of ... West Point, Brendan’s Hoosier values drive him to succeed, sacrifice and serve others, whether serving in Operation Iraqi freedom near Mosul, Iraq, leading troops in South Korea, or growing and starting successful job-creating small businesses,” Reynolds said in an e-mail. “In Congress, Brendan will use his real-world experience to be a voice for middle-class Hoosier families.”

But even in the Democratic primary last May, his message didn’t seem to resonate outside St. Joseph County. Though he had strong support from Democratic Party leadership and much more funding, Mullen lost to primary opponent Dan Morrison of Elkhart in nine of the 10 2nd District counties. He ended up winning the race with 54 percent of the vote, but only because of strong support in St. Joseph County.

The Walorski campaign — aside from saying Mullen would be a rubber stamp to President Obama and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Democrat from San Francisco — suggests Mullen’s effort is verging on becoming a negative campaign.

Walorski, as a state lawmaker, has a history “of identifying a problem and working tirelessly to find common-sense solutions,” Brendon DelToro, the Republican’s campaign manager, said in an e-mail. “On the other hand, Brendan Mullen has failed to take a position on the issues facing this country throughout his entire campaign. His definition of campaigning is to falsely distort Jackie’s record and attack her character.”

‘AN IDEAL CANDIDATE’

Indeed, Mullen’s campaign has been sharply critical at times of Walorski, a fiscal and social conservative from the Elkhart area, accusing her of being a partisan extremist and deriding her as a “tea party” candidate. Likewise, whereas much of the support for Walorski seems to stem from genuine enthusiasm and support for her and her views, some of Mullen’s backers, at least, seem to spurred, in part, by distaste for Walorski.

“I think he’s more moderate than what I know about his opponent,” Kauffman, the Goshen mayor and Mullen backer, first remarked when asked about Mullen. Later, he noted that the issue for some potential GOP supporters of Mullen is that Walorski is too far to the right.

Still, his backers gush over Mullen’s military and business background and what they see as his ability to bridge partisan divides.

“He’s just a common-sense, small business owner and operator,” said Mike Schmuhl, 2nd District Democratic Party chairman. “He is a Democrat, but I think he also breaks with his party on a few issues.”

Mullen offers “a sharp break” from partisan politics “and it really makes him an ideal candidate for this election cycle,” said John Broden, an Indiana senator from South Bend and chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party.




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