In the race for Congress in Indiana's 2nd District, the campaign of Democrat Brendan Mullen believes that Republican Jackie Walorski, long the frontrunner, went to a prevent defense too soon, enabling him to catch up and to win.
Each side has recent polling. Neither will cite specific numbers publicly. But the numbers appear to be not too much different. The interpretations differ.
Walorski's strategy is that of a frontrunner, using a prevent defense when it comes to debates.
She declined to participate in the Indiana University South Bend debate tonight. It will be televised by WNIT-TV from 6 to 7 p.m., with Mullen and Libertarian Joe Ruiz in a two-candidate debate. Walorski, as a challenger two years ago, did participate in the IUSB debate.
Nor will she participate with Mullen and Ruiz in a traditional debate at Rochester High School on Monday.
She did debate in Wabash, with live coverage on a radio station there. And she and Mullen, with Ruiz not invited, will participate in an Oct. 30 WSBT radio debate, 7 to 8 p.m., with SBT2 (Comcast Channel 16) providing live coverage.
In declining debates, Walorski prevents exposure for Mullen, still not well known throughout the district, and also prevents the chance of a big gain for Mullen in a televised debate. One debate can make a difference. Just ask President Obama or Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.
Not much downside to limiting debates, unless it does lead to some small gains that pile up to help Mullen close the gap.
Complaints by debate sponsors attract a little attention. And attention to the Libertarian candidate, if he does well in debating with Mullen, could become a factor.
Walorski contended after her 2010 loss that a Democratic mailer promoting the Libertarian candidate back then siphoned off votes that otherwise would have gone to her and could have changed the outcome. Both Walorski and the state party Democrats who were proud of the tactic overestimated the effect of one mailer. But it's a rule of thumb that a Libertarian on the ballot usually takes more votes from the Republican candidate than from the Democrat.
Debate strategy aside, Walorski has another type of prevent defense -- worth $600,000, with possibly more to come. That's the amount Karl Rove's Crossroads PAC has spent for ads attacking Mullen.
Mullen has his own help from outside groups, such as House Majority PAC, seeking a Democratic House majority. It sponsored TV ads accusing Walorski of "betrayal" in siding with insurance companies on women's health issues, including mammograms. That enabled Walorski to respond with a personal message in a TV ad about her own need for mammograms.
Mullen portrays Walorski as a career politician with a history of partisan bickering and spouting of tea party rhetoric. He seeks to link her with Mourdock.
Walorski portrays Mullen as a liberal Washington insider who runs at the behest of Democratic leaders. She seeks to link him to Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
He stresses his record as a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran and says he favors the moderate approach of present 2nd District Congressman Joe Donnelly.
She stresses her record in the state legislature during the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is popular with Hoosiers, and says she would be an independent voice in Washington.
He notes her past statements about privatizing Social Security.
She notes that he wouldn't vote to flat-out repeal Obamacare.
Both sides must consider the race close. If not, why would Crossroads spend over a half million dollars and why would the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which cut back earlier, now toss in an extra $94,000?
Walorski has a lead. Polls on both sides show that. One side says she went to a prevent defense too soon. The other says she has done all the right things and holds an unassailable lead.
Jack Colwell is a columnist for The Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.