“D.C. insider”? “Career politician”? What can be believed in the U.S. House race?
Editor's note: Today, Oct. 21, we look at some of the charges and countercharges that have been made in the intense race for Indiana's 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Friday we profiled Democrat Brendan Mullen and Republican Jackie Walorski and on Saturday we looked at Libertarian hopeful Joe Ruiz .
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 on the issues from Ruiz, Mullen and Walorski.
Here are links to earlier looks at Walorski, Mullen
If you pay attention to the charges and countercharges flying from the campaigns of Jackie Walorski and Brendan Mullen, you might be a little leery about voting for either candidate.
The candidates and their campaigns don't mince words, and even when the criticism or attacks aren't direct, there's enough innuendo to leave you wondering.
Walorski, a Republican from the Jimtown area, and Mullen, a Democrat from Granger, are the main party candidates in the race for Indiana's 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Of course, the campaigning isn't all critical, all about undermining the other side. Walorski, a fiscal and social conservative, is running largely on her three terms in the Indiana House of Representatives, her Indiana roots and what she says is her independence. Mullen, a moderate Democrat and U.S. Army vet now operating a consulting firm, is campaigning on his military and business background and what he says is his ability to build partisan bridges.
But the frequently sharp TV ads are hard to miss and the talk can get strong.
To hear it from Walorski, Mullen's allegiance is to Washington, D.C., and the power brokers in the nation's capital. He's a “liberal D.C. insider” with “liberal D.C. values.” He owns three homes in Washington D.C. — actually true — and he's in cahoots with the likes of liberal U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Mullen, meanwhile, paints Walorski as a “career politician,” more apt to engage in partisan bickering than legislate. The Democrat's campaign has criticized her as a “tea party” candidate — she does have strong tea party support — and blasted her for some of the stronger rhetoric she used in her unsuccessful 2010 bid for the 2nd District U.S. House seat.
'SHIFTED THE CONVERSATION'
Walorski first started throwing rocks, as Mullen sees it, when the Republican released a TV ad in late August, called “Brendan Mullen - D.C. Insider.” The ad implies, via archival photos of President Obama and Pelosi, that he is somehow in lockstep with the two Democratic leaders. The Mullen campaign followed with an ad of its own,in which a U.S. Army veteran who backs the Democrat says it's “downright un-American” for Walorski, as a “career politician,” to “smear” Mullen, being as he's a military veteran of Iraq.
“She shifted the conversation away from her record, she shifted the conversation away from the problems that we face into attacking my small businesses,” Mullen said in an interview at The Elkhart Truth. “And so it was not only disappointing, but I felt almost out of line.”
Walorski, meanwhile, maintains that any TV ad her campaign has put out has had a basis in fact.
“We've stayed true to making sure that if there's any information that we're paying for, it's going to be sourced, it's going to be the truth,” Walorski said in her own interview with The Elkhart Truth. “We're not distorting the photos, we're not distorting people. We're not going after character. We're talking about fact.”
Some of the criticism isn't always black and white, but rather, a matter of interpretation, spin even. At the same time, the charges and criticism have been multi-faceted on a range of issues.
Following is a look at the loudest charges — that Walorski is a “career politician” and Mullen is a “D.C. insider.” Joe Ruiz, a Libertarian, is also running for the U.S. House post, but the sparring has been between Mullen and Walorski.
The Mullen campaign has repeatedly labeled Walorski a “career politician.” She served three terms in the Indiana House, from 2005-10, and, aside from the failed U.S. House bid in 2010, ran unsuccessfully in the 1990s for a seat on the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners.
As Mullen campaign manager Andy Reynolds puts it, inaction and gridlock in the U.S. Congress is due to incumbent career politicians more interested in scoring political points by foiling the other side and maintaining their grip on power. Walorski, he argues, fits into this category of politician, while Mullen, having never run for office and coming from a military and business background, represents a break.
“She's been running for this seat for four years,” said Reynolds, alluding to Walorski's successive bids for the 2nd District U.S. House post.
In suggesting Walorski would be more interested in partisan fighting, the Mullen side has also alluded back to some of Walorski's stronger rhetoric from the 2010 contest, when she more openly courted tea party support.
“Bitter, angry career politician Jackie Walorski continues to lie, attempts to mislead voters,” reads the headline to a press release from the Democrat in early October.
It goes on to cite a Walorski comment quoted in the March 17, 2010, Kokomo Tribune, among many others. “I put Pat Bauer (the former Democratic speaker in the Indiana House) in the box, and I'm ready to take on Pelosi,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “We're in an ideological war, and the other side is winning.”
Walorski dismisses the career politician talk. She's 49 and has only served in political office, her Indiana House stint, for six of those years.
“I'm not sure anybody's profession is defined by six years,” she said. Democrat Joe Donnelly, the current 2nd District U.S. House officeholder — and now a candidate for U.S. Senate — is going on six years of service in the seat, she notes. Does that make him a career politician?
Her aim, Walorski said, is to make government accessible to the people. Moreover, her resume has more on it than just her political service. She worked from 1985 to 1989 as a TV reporter at WSBT in South Bend and from 1991 to 1999, in successive stints, at Ancilla College and Indiana University South Bend, aiding in fundraising at each institution.
Walorski seems to have moderated her tone since 2010, at least she hasn't made the same sort of charged remarks during this campaign that she did to the Kokomo Tribune. At the same time, when asked, she hasn't acknowledged any change in her style or demeanor. She maintains that she's always been willing to work across the aisle.
'D.C. INSIDER,' PELOSI
Walorski TV advertisements, some at least, have been relentless in labeling Mullen a “D.C. insider,” or, alternatively, a “liberal D.C. insider.”
Here's how “Brendan Mullen - D.C. Insider” begins: “Washington D.C., home to President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and D.C. insider Brendan Mullen. Mullen likes Washington D.C. so much he has three homes there. Washington liberals recruited him to move from D.C. to Indiana to run for Congress.”
Just as the Mullen campaign tries to link Walorski to the entrenched political system with the “career politician” label, Walorski's people are attempting to cast aspersions on Mullen by linking him to Democratic machinations in the nation's capital.
True enough, Mullen, who left South Bend in 1996 to attend the U.S. Military Academy, lived in Washington, D.C., on leaving the U.S. Army in early 2006. He settled there, his campaign has said, because while in the U.S. Army he had served at a nearby base, Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and going to the nation's capital was a natural transition. On announcing his bid for the 2nd District office in 2011, he moved back to South Bend, giving him five years post-military in Washington.
And true enough, Mullen and his wife Suzanne own three homes in Washington between them. One had served as the base of Mullen's consulting business, MKS2, which is now based out of the Democrat's Granger home, and the three homes now serve as rental properties for Mullen and his wife.
WHAT'S AN 'INSIDER'?
The Washington, D.C., connection notwithstanding, the “insider” status accusation is a hazier proposition.
Mullen has received at least $4,000 in campaign contributions from Pelosi, the liberal stalwart who's featured fleetingly in photographs in some of Walorski's anti-Mullen ads. And an Associated Press story from July 8, 2011, cited in Walorski's “D.C. Insider” ad said the Washington-based Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which promotes Democratic House candidacies, “courted Mullen to enter the race.”
Even so, Mullen has kept a distance from Pelosi on the campaign trail. He's met her, he said at a stop earlier this month in Goshen, “but she has not been in the foxhole with me for the past 65 weeks.”
And he's said the decision to run for the U.S. House out of Indiana stemmed from seeing his U.S. Army friends die overseas and gridlock on Capitol Hill. Though he left Indiana from 1996 to 2011, he's said he's back in Indiana for the long haul and repeatedly touts his Indiana upbringing and “Hoosier values.” He still has family connections in St. Joseph County — his father, Peter Mullen, serves as the St. Joseph County Auditor, an elected post.
As for the “liberal” label, that, too, is a matter of interpretation. Mullen has positioned himself as a moderate, pro-life, pro-gun Democrat.
Washington particulars and political labels aside, Walorski has without question spent more time in Indiana than Mullen, who's 34. She left for three or four years to live in Romania, but has otherwise remained here and she always touts her Indiana roots on the stump.
'GOT TO DEFEND YOURSELF'
The criticism and attacks don't stop with the career politician and D.C. insider charges, and once it starts, it's hard to bottle back up.
He doesn't like going on the attack, Mullen said. “But when you're getting punched and you're getting relentlessly attacked, you've got to defend yourself to some capacity,” he said.
For her part, Walorski suggests that it's just part of the process.
“Nothing that we have said out there, I don't think, qualifies, does anything negative,” she said. “We're just paying to get our message out with fact.”