Republican Jackie Walorski spent nearly two years campaigning for the 2nd District seat after losing narrowly in 2010 to Democrat Joe Donnelly. When Donnelly decided to run for the Senate in 2012, she bested Democratic rival Brendan Mullen in a northern Indiana district with newly-drawn boundaries.
Walorski grew up in a working-class family in South Bend, Ind., the granddaughter of Polish and German immigrants. Her father was a firefighter and her mother worked at a hospital. Walorski was the first in her family to attend college, graduating from Taylor University with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
While her immediate family was Republican, she said she didn’t become passionate about politics until she heard then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan speak, recalling that he said Republicans “believed in smaller government and the power of individuals controlling their own destiny.”
Walorski spent her first few years out of college working as a television reporter, and her experiences covering crime exposed her to the “weaknesses and strengths of our community,” as well as the importance of victims’ rights. She went on to do work for higher education institutions in rural Indiana. She believes in “a very limited role of government” and “equipping people to take care of their destinies,” but felt she could make a difference with a population underserved by the educational system.
In 1999, Walorski and her husband, Dean Swihart, volunteered as Christian missionaries in Romania. The couple eventually set up their own nonprofit organization, Impact International. Her time in Romania exposed her to another culture. But she was also there during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, an experience she said was life-changing. “We sat and watched on the only television we had in Romania. The airspace was closed, we couldn’t get back to our country,” she said. “We really did not know if we’d ever see our country or family again.”
Once home in Indiana, Swihart worked as a music teacher and Walorski ran for and won a seat in the state Assembly. One of her proudest legislative accomplishments in the Indiana statehouse was cosponsoring the state’s voter-identification law, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2008, and working to establish the Indiana Economic Development Corporation as a public and private cooperative venture.
In her 2010 race against Donnelly, she won an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and campaigned alongside former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but lost by about 1 percent of the vote thanks in part to Libertarian candidate Mark Vogel, who took 5 percent of the vote, much of which probably would have gone to her.
Two years later, she had little trouble dispatching physician Greg Andrews in the GOP primary, then faced off against the Democrat, Mullen, an Army veteran of the Iraq war who campaigned as a pro-gun ownership, antiabortion moderate. Walorski went on the attack, running an ad that accused him of having three homes in Washington, D.C. Mullen’s campaign said the homes were rental properties and retorted by highlighting Walorski’s vote for leasing operations of the Indiana Toll Road as a state lawmaker in 2006. But the redrawn district’s Republican tilt proved too much for him to overcome.
Walorski says her priorities are to push for a full repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and for deficit reduction. But she also says she’ll be independent of her party at times. “My plan is going on and finding common ground on the things we can work across the aisle on,” she said.
Elahe Izadi contributed to this article.