Political Notebook

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Mourdock doubts GOP Senate field to grow

Political bloggers and media websites are reporting that auto dealer Bob Thomas is considering running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who seeks to unseat Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in next year’s GOP primary, doesn’t think Thomas will be a candidate.

In a recent interview, Mourdock noted that prospective candidates have until Feb. 20 to collect at least 500 signatures of registered voters in each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts.

“I haven’t seen anyone – anyone, anyone – as I have traveled the state of Indiana, going out getting signatures” for the Senate race, Mourdock said. “I have never heard Bob Thomas’ name mentioned outside the 3rd congressional district because of when he ran against (Mark) Souder.

“I just don’t see any evidence that he’s out there,” Mourdock said about Thomas.

Thomas, who lives in Carmel and owns Ford dealerships in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, received a third of the vote in the 2010 GOP primary won by eight-term incumbent Souder. Two weeks later, Souder resigned from Congress after admitting to an extramarital affair with a part-time staffer.

Thomas ran again, finishing fifth of 15 candidates in a Republican caucus election won by Marlin Stutzman, then a state senator. Stutzman later won the 2010 general election.

When Mourdock announced his Senate candidacy last winter, he released a list showing 68 of the state’s 92 Republican county chairmen had endorsed him, even though GOP voters had nominated Lugar six times since 1976.

“That was a message to anybody else who was thinking about getting into the race that, ‘Gee, I guess the party has already coalesced behind Mourdock,’.” Mourdock said.

That didn’t stop state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, from talking about a possible run before waving it off in September. And there has long been media speculation that Chris Chocola, a former District 2 congressman and leader of the conservative Club for Growth, might enter the primary race.

“I have no doubt that Senator Lugar would love to have a third candidate or a fourth candidate or a fifth candidate” to draw potential votes away from Mourdock, said the second-term treasurer from Evansville.

David Willkie, political director for the Lugar campaign, said in an email: “Bob Thomas does not change Senator Lugar’s message. Hoosiers have responded to Senator Lugar’s message of job creation and his proposals to cut federal spending by supporting the Lugar Campaign in record numbers through financial contributions and volunteer hours.”

Thomas told a reporter for WISH-TV of Indianapolis he will decide after Thanksgiving about whether to enter the Senate contest.