Indiana treasurer Richard Mourdock
Indiana treasurer Richard Mourdock

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(WOMENSENEWS)–Jackie Walorski, a GOP politician who opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood, isn’t taking her strong frontrunner position for granted in this open race for the 2nd District in this swing state, which has recently taken its turn in the limelight of abortion politics.

Her Democratic opponent, Brendan Mullen, who has been trailing consistently in the polls, is likely hoping that the recent misstep by the GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate, Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock, will work to his benefit, says Elizabeth Anne Bennion, a professor of political science at the University of Indiana-South Bend, which lies in the 2nd District.

In an Oct. 23 debate, Mourdock stirred national controversy by saying he opposed abortion rights even in the cases of rape or incest because "Life is that gift from God that I think, even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

If voters veer away from Mourdock and towards Democrat Rep. Joe Donnelly, they might stay on the same voter line and pull the lever or tick the down-ticket box for Mullen, goes the calculation.

Reproductive rights activists have no champions in this related U.S. House contest. The two candidates are only slightly divided on the degree of exceptions they would make to an abortion ban.

Mullen’s campaign has linked Walorski to Mourdock by saying she "would also deny women who are victims of rape or incest and become pregnant the right to decide what to do," reported the Elkart Truth, a paper in the district.

Mullen has called himself a "pro-gun, pro-life" Democrat but supports those abortion exceptions.

‘Tea Party Extremist’

A new pro-Mullen ad from House Majority PAC, a group dedicated to electing Democratic candidates, calls his opponent a "Tea Party extremist, just like Richard Mourdock."

Walorski released a statement that read, "I believe Richard Mourdock’s apology was both necessary and appropriate," before claiming Mullen was politicizing the issue to distract voters, reported Oct. 24.

Earlier her campaign said that she was "pro-life with the exceptions of incest, rape and life of the mother." But the campaign later retracted that statement, saying it was sent without Walorski’s approval and replaced it with a watered-down version.

In 2010, Walorski told the Rochester Sentinel that she supported exceptions in the case of the life of the mother. When asked whether she supported other exceptions, she shook her head.

"One of the most prominent, vigorous, intense, extreme anti-choice members of Indiana House was Jackie Walorski," Becky Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said in a recent phone interview.

Cockrum, however, did not embrace Mullen for claiming that Walorski was more extreme on abortion than he is. "Why even get into a discussion about what range of anti-choice you are?"

Indiana is in the headlights of reproductive rights after Planned Parenthood of Indiana recently won a court case that forces the state to dispense federal Medicaid funding.

State lawmakers tried to block that funding on the grounds that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. Although the Hyde Amendment since 1976 has prohibited taxpayer funded abortion, opponents believe that any federal funding to the organization still subsidizes abortion. Planned Parenthood won the case because it meets all the federal requirements to receive Medicaid funding, reported The Hill.

The state of Indiana is now considering its next move – including whether it wants to appeal to the Supreme Court — which it will decide by the end of the year.

Redistricting Changes

Walorski served in the Indiana legislature between 2005 and 2011 and ran for Indiana’s 2nd District against Donnelly in 2010 when he was the incumbent. She lost, but when Donnelly moved into the U.S. Senate race he left an open seat in the 2nd District, which become more Republican after redistricting.

Walorski, while in the Indiana House, thwarted a bill to protect the LGBT population by adding an amendment defining abortion as a hate crime, reported the Indy Star in 2007. In 2008, while a state legislator, she called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood in Indiana, reported

University of Indiana-South Bend’s Bennion noted that both candidates are attempting to win over voters by promoting a similar message: they are moderate candidates who want to work in a bipartisan fashion, while the opponent is an ideological extremist.

Walorski has worked to align Mullen with President Barack Obama and as someone who moved to Indiana to run for office.

Her ad "Path" claims that "President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Brendan Mullen want to go down one path with more spending, higher taxes and a government takeover of health care," opposing that to the "Hoosier way" of "working together" to solve problems and cut spending.

An ad in support of Walorski released on Oct. 31 by the Young Guns Network’s "Woman Up" campaign claims that the "real war on women" is being waged by Obama because millions of women are unemployed. "In the real war on women, we need someone fighting for us," it says. "Vote for Jackie."

Pushing Moderate Credentials

Mullen, on the other hand, says in one campaign ad, "If it creates jobs, then I’m going to do it," regardless of whether the idea comes from Republicans or Democrats.

In his ad "Running," he pushes his moderate credentials by claiming he respects "life, family, and the right to bear arms."

Walorski, he claims, is a "career politician" and an extreme Tea Party candidate.

Bennion of the University of Indiana said that both candidates have played politics in their ads and bent the truth. Walorski says Mullen only moved to Indiana to run for Congress. But Mullen graduated from high school in the district and left to serve in the military. After his service ended in 2006, he worked for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. before starting his own consultancy, now operated out of his home.

The Mullen campaign has claimed in ads that Walorski "voted against coverage of prosthetics for wounded warriors," which Bennion said was misleading because most of those services are covered through Veterans Administration funding.

One issue Walorski hasn’t much mentioned is that she could be one of the first Republican women in Indiana’s congressional delegation since 1959. (Another female Republican, Susan Brooks, is running in Indiana’s 5th District.)

Some have taken notice though. Janice Winn, head of the local Republican women’s club in the 2nd District, said in an email interview that, "I think Jackie is a role model for all women thinking about getting into politics. We need to have more women running in local races as well as state and federal races."

Samantha Kimmey is a writer covering women and politics this election season.

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