Eight years ago, Richard Mourdock lost a race for a local county council, finishing in fifth place out of six candidates. It was his fifth loss in the first 16 years of his political career.

Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is greeted by supporter Johanna Fultz as he makes a campaign stop Monday at Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church near Battle Ground, Ind. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune)

That striking change of fortune for Mourdock is both evidence of the ideal set of circumstances he found in this year’s race and a testament to a long, tough slog to the top for the Indiana state treasurer and now-GOP Senate nominee.

Make no mistake: Tuesday was all about Dick Lugar . But Mourdock’s profile will matter plenty in November — with Democrats already talking about their increased chances of winning the seat.

So just who is Richard Mourdock?

As evidenced by his long electoral history, Mourdock is no spring chicken. At 60 years old, he would land firmly in the middle of the Senate’s age range on day one of his tenure.

Prior to his first foray into politics in a 1988 congressional election, Mourdock worked as a geologist and for an Evansville-based coal company.

In that 1988 race, he lost in the primary. In 1990 and 1992, he won his party’s nomination but fell to then-congressman Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.). He took 45 percent of the vote each year in a district that gave Vice President George H.W. Bush 57 percent in the 1988 presidential race.

By the mid-1990s, though, Mourdock finally won one, taking a seat on the Vanderburgh County Board of Commissioners, where he served two terms.

In 2002, Mourdock sought statewide office (secretary of state) for the first time, but lost the nomination to now-Rep. Todd Rokita at the state party convention. Mourdock led on the first ballot, but lost when another candidate dropped out and threw his support to Rokita.

Two years later, he attempted his return to office in Vanderburgh County – the state’s sixth-largest county – and finished behind both of the two other Republicans on the ballot. (Voters selected three councilmembers and each party nominated three.)

Despite that loss, in 2006, Mourdock ran again for statewide office and this time received his party’s backing to run for state treasurer – an office he won with 52 percent of the vote in November. He was reelected to that post with 62 percent in 2010, and shortly thereafter launched his Senate campaign.

Personally, Mourdock is a licensed pilot and an avid runner who has completed several marathons in recent years — including the Chicago Marathon on his 60th birthday. He has also been a Christian missionary in Bolivia, is a history buff and rides motorcycles.

In 2009, Mourdock was a notable critic of the auto bailout, filing a lawsuit to stop it despite the fact that his state is home to tens of thousands of automotive jobs.

Mourdock is not, on his surface, a fire-breathing tea party candidate. In fact, he’s more likely to shed tears on the campaign trail. And unlike many tea party candidates before him, he actually holds statewide office, which is no insignificant thing. It’s easier for a non-politician like Christine O’Donnell or a small-time candidate like Sharron Angle to stumble on the campaign trail; Mourdock actually has some political experience running and winning for statewide office.

View Photo Gallery: Few incumbent senators have lost bids for their parties’ nomination over the last 60 years, making Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) loss on Tuesday all the more newsworthy. We look at Lugar and nine senators whose losses surprised us the most.

But it remains to be seen how formidable a campaign Mourdock can run. He didn’t start raising big money until the primary really ramped up, and he relied heavily on third-party groups like the National Rifle Association and the Club for Growth to run ads on his behalf.

In addition, Mourdock’s campaign wasn’t without its stumbles. Recently, the state GOP accused the Mourdock campaign of breaking its rules by providing access to its voter files to a consultant, with one e-mail from campaign manager Jim Holden instructing the consultant to “start pillaging email addresses like a Viking raider attacking a monastery full of unarmed monks.” (That is an AMAZING quote.) The state party deferred any disciplinary action until after the primary, for fear of biasing the results.

Holden was also the man behind flyers at the 2002 state party convention suggesting one of the other secretary of state candidates had dropped out (when he had not) and got into a scrap with a blogger last year in which he called the blogger a “douche bag.”

These kinds of things tend to fly under the radar in the primary season, but that won’t be the case in the general election.

Make no mistake: Mourdock’s candidacy is now the major issue in the Indiana Senate race. And it will go a long way toward determining whether Rep. Joe Donnelly and the Democrats actually have a shot in the Hoosier State.

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