As a prosecutor and Indiana state representative during the 1950s and 1960s, L. Keith Bulen recognized that politics was about more than just ideology, issues, and power; politics was a profession, and some people were better at their jobs than others. Bulen was very good at the job he assumed in 1966, as the first paid Chairman of the Marion County Republican Central Committee. Bulen and his allies soon emerged as leaders within the state Republican Party.
Political parties sought to gather information about their potential voting bases, particularly in the months leading up to elections. Campaigns sought such information in order to shape their campaign messages, while also drawing attention to upcoming elections and assuring that voters (particularly those friendly to the party's candidates) made their way to the polls. In this questionnaire, the Democratic Party of Marion County sought to collect information as well as support from county residents. This copy of the Democrats' polling questions likely was collected as part of opposition research by Bulen, the newly elected Chair of the Marion County Republican Central Committee.
One of Bulen's first victories as a rising power among Indiana Republicans came when he backed a member of the Indianapolis School Board, Richard G. Lugar, in his 1967 campaign for mayor. Bulen encouraged Lugar to run, served as his campaign chairman, and led the Lugar campaign to a decisive victory over incumbent Democrat John J. Barton. Seen in the bottom right, Lugar shakes hands at a reception during the 1967 campaign. (Richard G. Lugar’s early political career is explored more fully in the feature Making of a Mayor).
Raising money for political campaigns requires systematic thinking, strategic use of raw data and human talent, and--oft-overlooked--creativity. This flyer from the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee advocates for broad-based fundraising from numerous potential contributors, rather than reliance on a handful of major donors. Decades before the social media strategies of modern campaigns, Bulen demonstrated the essential initial steps of acquiring data, identifying potential supporters, and finding ways to reach them, whether through mass mailings, televised media, or face-to-face meetings.
As Bulen rose in the ranks of Indiana Republicans, he also became more active in the national party. In 1968, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and also ran the state's Nixon for President committee. The committee was wildly successful: Indiana provided the next President with his largest margin of victory in any state in the nation. In this photo, Bulen joins Richard and Pat Nixon at a campaign event in Indiana.
In the two years that Bulen served as chair of the Marion County Republican Central Committee, the balance of power in Indiana and the county had shifted decisively to the Republicans. In the 1968 elections, the GOP had captured all major state elected offices. Praised for his role in these victories and in Nixon's presidential win, Bulen was elected to the Executive Committee of the Republican National Committee in 1969. In this photo, Bulen sits at his desk reading the Marion County Republican Reporter. Behind him are portraits of President Nixon and Edgar D. Whitcomb, who was elected Indiana Governor in 1968.
Republican Party leaders in Indiana (likely including Bulen) prepared an exquisitely detailed, step-by-step manual on how to run a winning campaign. The manual emphasized the elements that made Bulen such an effective political strategist: recognize talent, focus on details and systematic organization, assure effective communication among campaign staff, gather and act upon comprehensive information about the voters and their central concerns, and be sure that you have the best people doing their best work on clearly assigned tasks. These guidelines reflected Bulen's belief that research and response--identifying, recording, and addressing voters' concerns--was essential to winning elections. In making this point, the manual quotes Abraham Lincoln: "Make a perfect list of all the voters and ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote." As the manual explains, "still good advice today. In fact, voter identification and classification is the basis of winning politics."
As the chief orchestrator of Richard Lugar's second mayoral campaign, Bulen sought to build a Lugar coalition that reached across party lines. Even after UniGov brought Republican areas of Marion County into the Indianapolis voting base, the majority of the electorate was still Democratic. (For more on UniGov and its impact on Indianapolis, see the feature UniGov: From City to Metropolis.) To win, Lugar would need to assure high turnout by Republican voters, while also gaining some Democratic support. Bulen successfully focused the election on UniGov, making it a de facto referendum on the consolidation of city-county government. As a result of the mayoral campaign, Bulen formed Campaign Communicators, Inc. (CCI) in 1971 as a political consultancy and public relations and advertising firm, which initially focused on emphasizing UniGov's benefits to voters. Created by CCI staff, this polling form shows both questions and summary results of a pre-election survey of Marion County residents. As the data indicates, UniGov was hardly a significant "problem."
In August 1971, just months before the mayoral election, a Federal Court ruled that Indianapolis's schools had violated laws against racial segregation. Lugar's Democratic opponent John Neff alienated African-American voters by opposing the court's order to bus students to achieve racial balance in Indianapolis schools. Lugar won re-election by a large margin, declaring his victory a public endorsement of his mayoralty and UniGov.
In 1972, Bulen became chairman of the board of Campaign Communicators, Inc. (CCI), the political consulting firm initially formed to help promote UniGov. CCI grew to support and facilitate campaigns across the country. Among its earliest clients was William H. Hudnut, III, a Presbyterian minister who ran for the chance to represent Indiana's 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives and won the seat in 1972. Hudnut and Bulen recognized each other as powerful allies. As a relative outsider, Hudnut noted Bulen's past successes and believed that Bulen could advise him on political machinations. Recognizing Hudnut not just as a client but also as a candidate with great potential, Bulen again demonstrated acumen in identifying and cultivating political talent. In addition to Lugar and Hudnut (who would later become Indianapolis's longest serving mayor, 1976-1992), Bulen also promoted the political careers of Mitch Daniels (Indiana Governor, 2005-2013), Sue Anne Gilroy (Indiana Secretary of State, 1994-2003), Stephen Goldsmith (Indianapolis Mayor, 1992-2000), and Bill Ruckelshaus (State Representative in the Indiana House of Representatives and first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, one of several federal appointments).
At the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami, national attention was drawn to one of Bulen's political stars, the young mayor from Indianapolis. Earlier in the year, Richard Lugar was often mentioned as a potential running mate in Nixon's re-election campaign. As this memorandum from Bud Gohmann indicates, even after Nixon had reaffirmed his support for Spiro T. Agnew, Lugar's supporters hoped the Mayor's participation in the 1972 convention would be a way of generating recognition for the up-and-coming mayor. Indeed, throughout much of his career as mayor and then U.S. Senator, Lugar remained on the short-list of potential presidential and vice-presidential candidates. In addition, in 1972, Lugar's advocates hoped that the Mayor might be able to use his role as keynote speaker to draw the Republican Party's attention to "urban issues," such as race relations, crime, unemployment, pollution, and government efficiency. Political conventions were not only about promoting candidates, but seeking to shape party agendas, too. (Lugar’s keynote address at the 1972 convention is highlighted in the feature Making of a Mayor).
In the wake of the Watergate crisis and Nixon's resignation, the 1974 elections brought significant losses to GOP candidates across the country. Indiana Republicans were no different. The party had called upon one of its rising stars, Richard G. Lugar, to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Birch Bayh. Despite Lugar's popularity, the anti-Republican tide proved too much to surmount. For L. Keith Bulen, 1974 posed even greater problems. As this newsletter explains, political scandal forced Bulen to resign from all political positions and close Campaign Communicators, Inc. He was investigated for potentially corrupt distribution of liquor licenses in Indianapolis. Although not related to the backlash against Republicans, Bulen's resignation reflected his understanding that in the post-Watergate era, Americans were less patient regarding allegations of corruption.
Even without CCI, Bulen remained a key player in state and national political campaigns. He was an early advocate of Ronald Reagan, supporting the California Governor during his unsuccessful challenge of incumbent Gerald Ford for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976. With Bulen's guidance, Reagan carried Indiana in the primary.
Four years later, Bulen again played a critical role in Reagan's campaign, serving as both Deputy Chairman and Eastern Coordinator for the National Reagan for President Committee. Bulen managed Reagan's candidacy in 17 states, helping to assure a Reagan victory in 1980.
In addition to his work on national campaigns, Bulen continued to shape statewide Republican politics, guiding Robert D. Orr to Governor and John Mutz to Lieutenant Governor. Bulen is seen during a Republican campaign event in 1980 with posters for Bob Orr and John Mutz behind him. A handwritten note reads: "for Keith, our leader, John."
In 1981, President Reagan appointed Bulen to the International Joint Commission, a binational organization established by the United States and Canada to address water and air quality concerns, especially regarding the Great Lakes and other border areas. Bulen dedicated extensive efforts to the IJC, serving as principal in crafting the Bulen-Olson Treaty, which focused on the Skagit River area between Washington state and British Columbia. Bulen also continued to play a role in national politics, serving as honorary co-chair of the Reagan Indiana Presidential Campaign.
In 1990, Bulen once again orchestrated multiple statewide campaigns, this time as part of the Republicans' Victory '90 effort to win seats in the Indiana General Assembly. Bulen won a seat himself, returning to the Indiana House of Representatives where he first served from 1960 to 1964.
In 1991, Stephen Goldsmith solicited Bulen's advice in his campaign for mayor of Indianapolis. Bulen had spotted talent in Goldsmith, who would serve as Mayor of Indianapolis, 1992-2000, special advisor to President George W. Bush, and Deputy Mayor of New York City, 2010-2011.
One of Bulen's recognized skills was identifying and supporting young talented politicians. Sue Ann Starnes began as a staff member in Lugar's mayoral office, where her skills were recognized by Bulen as well as by Mike Quinn of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. Less than three years later, in 1974, Lugar named Starnes (whose married name was Sue Anne Gilroy) as director of the Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation. As Bulen and Quinn predicted, Gilroy's political acumen and power grew over the decades. She worked as Senator Lugar's statewide political director in the early 1990s and became the first woman to serve as Indiana Secretary of State, from 1994 until 2003.
In 1968, Bulen spotted political talent in a young intern, Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., and hired Daniels as Vice President of Campaign Communicators, Inc. Daniels went on to serve on Senator Lugar's senior staff, as White House Political Advisor to President Reagan, as Director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, and as Governor of Indiana (2005-2013). In this 1972 photo taken at the Republican National Convention, Daniels stands behind Bulen, likely during Mayor Lugar's keynote address.