Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 9, 2013

Clowning around with Chocola and Mourdock

By Brian Howey
CNHI

— Chris Chocola is not a clown.

He doesn't wear a bulbous red nose or a bright orange Bozo wig. His shoes aren't two feet long. He doesn't drive a little yellow taxi filled with other clowns, who tumble out at the first sounding of a Chinese fire drill.

Chocola is a former Indiana Republican congressman who collected earmarks for his district, and voted for the Medicare prescription drug plan. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with Medicare - the biggest entitlement expansion since LBJ's Great Society - helped produce America's first trillion-dollar budget deficit before Barack Obama ever became president. He is also president of Club For Growth and it is in this latter capacity that Chocola is acting ... well, like a clown.

Since Chocola became Club For Growth's chief, he has become a born-again deficit hawk. He is now against earmarks and wasteful spending and is seeking Republicans to punish for things he did himself.

Club For Growth - an organization of rich, Republican white guys - decided to target U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar for defeat sometime in 2010. They consigned Lugar, who had a Republican voting record approaching the 90th percentile and who had received 7.5 million votes, a Hoosier record, over his 36-year career, as a "RINO." Chocola and his merry band of bundlers spent close to $4 million backing Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who defeated Lugar in the Republican primary.

Mourdock took that Senate nomination, started shooting his mouth off, disappeared from the campaign trail for a couple of months, and then made what was the epic blunder of the television age of Indiana politics. His "God intends" rape remark at the New Albany debate with Joe Donnelly created a fiasco that gift-wrapped a reliable GOP seat for the Democrats.

Chocola failed to sniff out his candidate's temperament issues. When Mourdock first met with Club For Growth's PAC, he was unprepared, became testy, and essentially blew his first interview. Club For Growth gave Mourdock a mulligan, invited him back, and he handled the second chance well enough that they decided to chip in $4 million.

Because of Chocola and all of the other Super PACS, there was $51 million raised and spent on this one Senate seat. And some $32 million of that money didn't come from Hoosier voters, but from people in New York City and Washington, Texas, Florida, and beyond. And here's the real kicker: Almost none of that money went to Indiana businesses. Club For Growth and the other Super PACSs spent their money on cable TV broadcasters/Fox News and Washington-based TV, direct mail, and e-mail production firms.

These Super PACs don't care about Indiana businessmen and women or their firms. They just saw a chance to buy a U.S. Senate seat and they treated us as rubes.

You would think that after this political exploding cigar that resulted in "U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.," Chocola and Club For Growth would have been embarrassed.

But no.

Chocola and Club For Growth are back. They have shamelessly targeted U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon for defeat in the 2014 Republican primary.

And the sins of Bucshon? His debt ceiling vote (he wisely decided against risking a U.S. credit downgrade), another to bail out the Highway Trust Fund, and a vote for blocking an ethanol blender pump. They claim that Bucshon, a vociferous critic of Obamacare, voted a budget extension that funded the Affordable Care Act.

"We've been planning this for awhile," said Chocola, adding that his recent scorecard "really kind of drives who qualifies for the list."

Now, who has a home in Darmstadt deep inside Bucshon's district? Richard Mourdock!

If he takes the bait, Mourdock will have a chance to lose his fifth congressional race (he's already waged three unsuccessful races in the 8th CD). As one Republican noted after the treasurer told Vanderburgh County Republicans that he was thinking of a comeback, "Mourdock is a recovering campaigner who has fallen off the wagon."

We are now witnessing Mourdock traveling the Lincoln Day dinner circuit. His former campaign manager, Jim Holden, attempted and failed at an Indiana Republican Central Committee coup last week. Put Mourdock on the ballot in 2014 and it will pose the kind of ticket drag that doomed Supt. Tony Bennett and almost defeated Gov. Pence.

Bucshon spokesman Nick McGee responded to the bullseye on the back of his boss, saying, "Club For Growth is a Washington, D.C., based organization that certainly has a right to its opinion. Dr. Bucshon has a strong conservative voting record and was successfully re-elected by a 10 percent margin in his last election. He has confidence his constituents in Indiana will continue to assess his record of consistently fighting to cut spending, keep taxes low, bring good pay jobs to Hoosiers, and reform healthcare and not rely on a D.C.-based organization to assess it for them."

No, Chris Chocola and Richard Mourdock are not clowns, or at least they are not dressed as such.

But if you see either one of them on the rubber chicken circuit, and they reach out to accept your check and shake your hand, watch out for that buzzer under the bird.

- Brian Howey publishes online at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.