6:26 AM EDT, March 10, 2013
Chances of Gov. Mike Pence winning legislative approval of his signature 10 percent income tax cut began to slip away last Oct. 23.
Pence didn't know it at the time. Nobody knew it at the time.
The Republican nominee was regarded then as a sure winner in his race with John Gregg, an underfunded Democratic nominee ridiculed for TV commercials featuring unusual characters in his small hometown. Pence was ahead consistently by double digits in the polls during the campaign, ahead by 18 percentage points in one professional poll conducted for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Pence, an articulate and able campaigner, was pushing his proposed income tax cut as the centerpiece of his effort. He knew that the race could narrow some by Election Day, so he campaigned hard for a big win that would give a big boost for his tax proposal -- and for a possible future presidential bid.
Now, however, even with Republicans in a supermajority in both the House and Senate, his tax cut proposal has thus far gone nowhere. The House passed a budget restoring education funding and providing more for transportation and some other areas of state concern instead of using a state surplus for the tax cut. Senate Republican leaders say they, too, are concerned that the surplus is precarious and that education and transportation are more vital now than a tax cut.
If Pence gets no tax cut, we can look back to Oct. 23 as the day when the chances began to slip away.
Although nobody knew it as the sun rose on Oct. 23, that would be the most significant day of the 2012 campaign in Indiana, with effects extending to the national level. That night is when in debate the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Richard Mourdock, said that a pregnancy from rape "is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock now blames not what he said, but rather that what he said was reported, as the reason he lost.
Mourdock's refusal quickly to explain his remarks or apologize for unnecessarily declaring God's intent in rape turned what was a toss-up race for the Senate into a decisive victory for Democrat Joe Donnelly. Maybe Donnelly would have won anyway. Mourdock made other blunders, but it was still a toss-up when he tossed it away that night.
Effects went beyond the Senate race, hurting the entire Republican state ticket, even causing problems for Mitt Romney just when there was poll evidence that Romney had started to do much better with female voters.
Pence was dragged down significantly by the anti-Mourdock tide. Not enough to lose. But the expected Pence landslide didn't occur. He didn't even get 50 percent of the vote and wound up in the closest race for governor since 1960.
With no Pence coattails to help pull along other Republicans to victory, Tony Bennett, the incumbent Republican state school superintendent, was defeated in a major upset.
The Club for Growth and other groups instrumental in Mourdock's defeat of Dick Lugar in the Republican primary had calculated that Mourdock, with all his blunder potential, still would be a sure winner last fall in a Republican state where Pence would be a vote-getting ticket leader.
Pence couldn't pull Mourdock to victory. Instead, Mourdock pulled down Pence's winning margin.
Donnelly, once viewed as a long shot, actually had a larger winning margin than Pence -- 147,560 plurality for Donnelly, just 75,408 for Pence. Think what the odds on that happening would have been before Oct. 23.
This was not lost on Republican state legislators. Most of them won with much bigger percentages than Pence. They didn't owe their election wins to Pence. He had no coattails to help them.
So, they make their own budget decisions. It's not that they dislike the governor. They just don't see that he won any mandate. They see no reason to surrender their goals on education and transportation to make him happy.
One reason Republican legislators so often listen to Gov. Mitch Daniels is that he did win by a landslide. Twice.
Without wreckage from Mourdock's monumental slip-up on Oct. 23, Pence would have won more impressively. And his tax cut proposal might not now be slipping away.
Jack Colwell is a columnist for The Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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