Editor's note: Today, Oct. 19, we profile the Republican and Democratic hopefuls for Indiana's 2nd District U.S. House seat, Jackie Walorski and Brendan Mullen. Saturday we profile Libertarian Joe Ruiz and Sunday we look at the many charges and countercharges made in the intense race.
The 2nd District, redrawn per the 2010 U.S. Census, now includes all of Elkhart County, seven other north central Indiana counties and parts of two others. The three-term incumbent, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, is running for the U.S. Senate this cycle.
Follow these links for more from Mullen, Walorski and Ruiz on the issues.
Here are links to earlier looks at Walorski, Mullen and Ruiz.Click here to read the profile on Jackie Walorski.
Click here to read the profile on Joe Ruiz.
Click here to read our look at the campaigns and pointed political ads of the candidates seeking Indiana's 2nd District U.S. House seat.
ELKHART — He put himself in harm's way as a member of the U.S. Army in Iraq.
He later helped launch a friend's start-up consulting firm and then formed his own.
Now Democrat Brendan Mullen — who grew up in South Bend, left to attend the U.S. Military Academy and later returned upon launching his bid for the 2nd District U.S. House seat — wants to put his experience to work serving north central Indiana.
“Most members of Congress are lawyers or they're professional politicians that litigate policy after policy after policy,” he charges. “They don't have real-world experience.”
With his mix of military and business experience, his “Hoosier values,” he says he has the credentials to get things done in Washington, D.C. He comes down as a conservative on some issues — he's pro-life, pro-guns — and stakes out a populist position on others, worrying that “big oil” and “Wall Street” are getting a better deal than “Main Street,” for instance.
“Washington is broken. It's not working for us, it's not working for our families. It's not working for our communities,” he says. “And what we need to stay laser focused on is Main Street, giving the small business owners and entrepreneurs the same breaks that big oil and Wall Street have been getting.”
Also figuring big in his book is the contrast he offers to Republican Jackie Walorski, the fiscal and social conservative and former Indiana House member from the Jimtown area who's also vying for the seat. Joe Ruiz of Mishawaka is running as a Libertarian.
“I'll never suggest that my path that I want to walk down is rainbows and butterflies and puppy dogs,” he says in a visit to the Elkhart Truth. “But I do believe it is definitively brighter than the tea party path that (Walorski) has been walking down for her entire career and its my-way-or-(the)-highway mentality.”
Mullen has cast Walorski as a far-right extremist, incapable of compromise. She has strong tea party backing and a history, at least during her unsuccessful 2010 bid for the 2nd District spot, of sharp-edged conservative rhetoric. The Democrat, by contrast, says he has the even temperament to work with both Democrats and Republicans, bridging the partisan gap in Washington D.C.
“I'm a middle-of-the-road guy that has always said I'm going to make my Democratic friends really mad at me and I'm going to make my Republican friends really mad at me,” he says. “And if that's the case, I'm being a representative voice for the entire spectrum.”
'ONE INCH AT A TIME'
Mullen, 34, is making his first bid for public office and doesn't have a public voting record to examine. Instead, the focus has been on his military and business record and the moderate approach he promises.
His run was prompted by the experience of seeing U.S. Army buddies, killed in action in military service, laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. The Democrat now operates a home-based consulting firm called MKS2, or Mission Knowledge Strategies and Solutions, which has chiefly worked with military clients.
“When you go to too many of your friends' funerals and you see that American flag draped over their casket and you see the flag being folded and handed to your buddy's spouse and you hear the 21-gun salute — that's what drives me, man,” he says.
Gazing across the Potomac River during Arlington ceremonies toward Washington and Capitol Hill, he would weigh his friends' sacrifices with the “clowns” in Congress, “squeezing the air out of each other.” Lawmakers aren't getting anything done — a common theme — and he wants to put an end to the antics of the “professional politicians.” He'll do what he can to end political gridlock, put Congress on a productive course.
“One inch at a time,” he says. “I will never change Washington, D.C., overnight. ... But if we can focus on demanding one inch of movement forward from myself and 434 other members of Congress, we will effectively be able to move forward for our families and communities.”
Mullen is forthright that he has no voting record to point to in touting his candidacy, launched the summer of 2011. He graduated in 1996 from John Adams High School in South Bend before heading off to the U.S. Military Academy and lives in Granger with his wife and two young daughters. “But what I have done is built bonds,” he says, alluding to his military and business experience and his ability to forge consensus.
After graduating from West Point in 2001, he went into the U.S. Army and eventually ended up in the war in Iraq, an experience he always cites on the campaign trail. There, along with just a handful of other Army officials, he embedded with 1,000 Iraqi soldiers south of Mosul, tasked with keeping the terrorist group al-Qaida at bay.
He learned basic Arabic, played soccer with the Iraqi soldiers, carried out missions and raids with them, patiently building a connection.
“Before I knew it, they looked to me as a guy that could help them move through the challenges that their communities and their villages faced,” he says. “I take that model, and I'll never apply war to our halls of Congress, but I can apply the same concerns.”
Likewise, working with his fellow U.S. Army comrades, he learned how to get along and forge ties. He recalls riding in crammed Humvees on frequent missions, when the others in the vehicle might include soldiers from such disparate places as Miami, Alaska, Texas and East Harlem, N.Y.
“Every faith, every religion, every political belief, every walk of life came out of that Humvee. And whenever we walked across the wire and went beyond our forward operation base, we worked as a team for the greater good,” he says.
'WORKED OUR TAILS OFF'
On leaving the military after five years in early 2006, he traded his uniform for a buttoned-down shirt and turned his focus to the private sector, starting out in the Washington, D.C., area. That's where he had served part of his Army stint. A fellow West Point alum recruited him to help her as she launched a consulting firm, Halfaker and Associates, and he became chief operating officer, assisting in day-to-day operations.
There, as Mullen puts it, he helped spearhead quick growth at the firm, which offers anti-terrorist and disaster-readiness consulting to the government and private sector. During his time at Halfaker, the firm's annual revenue stream reached around $12 million and one of the key contracts was with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., helping with recruitment.
“What we did is we worked our tails off and grew an extraordinary team into a company, and before I knew it we had five employees,” he says. “Then we had 15, then I had a lot more gray hair and we had 25, and the next thing you know we had 75 and the next thing you know we had 100.”
A Halfaker rep confirms Mullen worked there as chief operating officer, from early 2006 to around mid-2008. But because it's a personnel matter, the company wouldn't provide any other information or discuss Mullen's time there.
Mullen decided he wanted to start his own business and left Halfaker, launching MKS2 in July 2008, initially in Washington D.C. Likewise, it's a consulting firm, now operated out of his Granger home. And while it hasn't experienced the sort of quick growth Halfaker did, Mullen says, it's advancing “slowly but surely.”
One of his key contracts is working with the families of U.S. Army National Guard and Army Reserves members sent from Indiana to serve abroad. Going from the private sector to the National Guard or reserves can result in a cut in income and his firm helps connect remaining family members with services to make sure they stay afloat in the meantime.
MKS2 also helps guardsmen and reserves on their return in dealing with their stateside employers. Furthermore, the company has worked with the U.S. Air Force, operating health, fitness and wellness programs in Texas, Delaware and Alaska.
In 2011, MKS2 employed six full-timers and 30 independent contractors, scattered around Indiana, Virginia, Alaska, Texas and Delaware. He's been “110 percent focused” on the campaign the last 18 months, Mullen says, and he has two workers in Indiana.
'COME TO THE MIDDLE'
It may seem a world apart from the hurly-burly of Washington, D.C., politics. But small business is the economic engine of the country, as Mullen sees it, and he can bring the insight he has as a business operator himself to the halls of Congress to make sure the motor stays in top condition.
He's signed both sides of a paycheck and “knows what it feels like to be on Main Street, working and growing a small business,” he says.
Beyond that, he just has the even temper and moderate world view to get things done. “The art of politics is compromise. Let's come to the middle and work through these issues,” he says.
Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly named Mullen's company. It's called MKS2. The Truth regrets the error.