The race, which was called Tuesday by the Associated Press and NBC News, became unexpectedly competitive when Mourdock, riding a wave of tea party frustration with Washington, ousted longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary.
The move infuriated so-called Lugar Republicans – moderate voters who admired the elder statesman’s ability to reach across the aisle, particularly on matters of foreign policy, to get things done in Washington. And it created an opening for Donnelly, the Democratic candidate, to vie for those voters.
Mourdock took a different approach. He doubled down on the strategy that had helped him win the primary.
“Bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” he said in a TV appearance just hours after he had won the nomination.
"The highlight of politics," he said, “is to inflict my opinion on someone else.”
Mourdock contends that the latter statement was meant as a joke and that the former was taken out of context. But Democrats seized on the sound bites as evidence that Mourdock was too extreme for moderate Hoosiers. They even dispatched Bill Clinton to Indianapolis to make the case.
“What is this idea that it’s my way or the highway?” Clinton said. “I was raised to believe that nobody’s right all the time. Now, maybe Mr. Mourdock is, I don’t know. He’s way right all the time, I know that.”
And then, in the final weeks of the campaign, Mourdock delivered the most damaging quote. Asked in the final minutes of a debate to discuss his views on abortion, Mourdock said: “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
The comment went viral. One poll found that 87% of likely voters had heard about it.
Mourdock, who serves as state treasurer, became a darling of the tea party movement when he initiated a legal challenge to the Obama administration’s bailout of Chrysler. He is a history buff and claims to have read 10 pages of American history every night before bed for the past 35 years.
Donnelly is a three-term congressman who is a member of the Blue Dog coalition of moderate Democrats.
In his campaign, Donnelly fashioned himself as a “common-sense Hoosier in the tradition of Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh,” a popular former Democratic governor and senator. He played up his opposition to abortion and his vote against the 2009 cap-and-trade legislation that sought to limit greenhouse gas emissions as evidence that he would not be a rubber stamp for Democrats.