By Scott Tibbs, August 12, 2011
When Mike Delph told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that he was considering challenging Richard Lugar in the 2012 Republican primary, the Lugar campaign must have been doing cartwheels for joy.
I have a great deal of respect for Delph. He is a solid fiscal and social conservative and would provide another much-needed voice of sanity to the debate in Washington, D.C. over the Obama administration's reckless and irresponsible deficit spending. I have been involved in the anti-abortion movement since my days as a college student in the 1990's, so Delph's commitment to opposing abortion is something I admire.
But let's be realistic here. If Delph jumps into the U.S. Senate primary, the best he can hope for is to be a spoiler. Richard Mourdock is already in the race and has been actively campaigning for the last 6 months. He has raised impressive amounts of money for someone challenging an entrenched incumbent, and as Scott Fluhr pointed out he is already leading Lugar in a poll by the Club for Growth.
But all of that changes if Delph makes this a three-way race. If the conservative vote is split between two credible challengers, Lugar is virtually assured of another half-dozen years in Washington. We saw this in 1998, when Peter Rusthoven and John Price split the conservative vote and allowed Paul Helmke to squeak past both on the way to a crushing loss to Evan Bayh. We saw this in 2010, when John Hostettler and Marlin Stutzman split the conservative vote and allowed Dan Coats to return to the Senate after an absence of 12 years.
Mourdock is a credible challenger and can defeat Lugar in a one-on-one contest. Mourdock has proven he can win statewide, having been elected Treasurer of State in 2006 and cruising to a dominating re-election win in 2010 with over 60% of the vote. Some of the conservative upstarts in 2010 were criticized by the Republican establishment as being unable to win a general election campaign, but that can't be said of Mourdock. His record and resume are proven.
I respect Delph's desire to have a positive impact in Washington, but that ship has sailed. If Delph jumps in the race and causes Lugar to win, there are conservatives who will remember this and Delph's ability to get support for future runs for elective office will be damaged. Delph needs to sit this one out and wait for another opportunity. One possibility is running for the U.S. Senate in 2016 if Coats retires, or even challenging Coats in a primary if he does not have a conservative voting record in this term. Running against Lugar and Mourdock is the wrong race at the wrong time.