Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly tangled early and often about politics, policy and partisanship in the first of two debates between the candidates for Senate before the Nov. 6 election.
Mourdock, the state treasurer, attacked Donnelly for appealing to independent voters and moderate Republicans despite consistently voting for President Barack Obama's agenda.
Donnelly, who represents the 2nd District in the U.S. House, attacked his GOP opponent for trying to scuttle a federal deal to restructure Chrysler and save American jobs, including thousands in Indiana.
And both men all but ignored Libertarian Andrew Horning, who repeatedly argued that voting for a major party candidate will do nothing to change what's wrong in Washington D.C.
"These are honorable, good men, but they cannot fix the system," Horning said. "I'm the guy on the outside of this argument. I will be the guy on the outside of Washington who knows it's corrupt."
Monday's debate took place public radio and television station WFYI in Indianapolis and was broadcast statewide. Mizell Stewart, chief content officer for the newspaper division of E.W. Scripps Co., moderated.
Most of the questions came from Hoosiers who submitted them to the Indiana Debate Commission. The candidates also engaged in what the commission called a Lincoln-Douglas style segment.
Mourdock and Donnelly's arguing started early. Mourdock said too many elected officials go to the Capitol with good intentions but abandon their principles when faced with tough decisions and party pressures. It was an early strike at Donnelly, whom he's accused of talking about independence while voting for key Democratic legislation, including the federal health care law.
But Donnelly, who has made bipartisanship a hallmark of his campaign, objected.
"It is not unprincipled to think bipartisan," Donnelly said. "I would rather make sure that we can work together in Washington and in Indiana to move our country forward."
Donnelly said working across aisles in Congress has been the highlight of his career, and it's what he'll continue doing if elected.
Donnelly and Mourdock argued back and forth – often addressing each other directly – about Republicans and Democrats working together, all while Horning encouraged voters to change directions by electing him.
"I think you've seen what's going to happen if you vote the status quo," he said, referring to Mourdock and Donnelly's arguing. "We need a peaceful revolution to end this."
Donnelly touted the time he spent working with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar – whom Mourdock defeated in the GOP primary – to bail out the auto industries, which he said saved 100,000 jobs nationwide.
He criticized Mourdock for saying Lugar betrayed conservatives by voting for the bailout.
"I don't see how that even fits in the dialect," Donnelly said. "We can disagree with each other, have different points of view, but I don't understand how you can say betray."
Mourdock said Lugar is an honorable man but that they just held different opinions and fought for separate things. After the debate, Mourdock said he regretted the use of the word "betray" in the missive sent to voters.
But Mourdock said his fight against the Chrysler bailout was about his role as state treasurer, in which he is charged with investing and protecting teacher and police retirement funds in Indiana. Mourdock fought the bailout all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court but lost and the Obama administration implemented it anyway.
"Our partisanship is drowning out principle," he said.
Mourdock and Donnelly also disagreed on the role of government.
Donnelly criticized Mourdock for his earlier statements that Social Security and Medicare are not specified by the U.S. Constitution.
"Joe, you know I never said that," Mourdock retorted.
Mourdock said that his views are more complicated than that simple statement. He said the scope is made clear in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution which sets out the enumerated powers for federal government.
He said just because Medicare and Social Security aren't mentioned specifically in the constitution does not mean he wants to eliminate them.
"Neither is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, neither is the FBI, but that hardly means that such things are beyond the scope of modern day government," Mourdock said. "We do, though, have to make sure government lives within its needs."
Donnelly argued back, saying Mourdock wants Medicare to be turned into a voucher program.
"I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born last night," Donnelly said. "In regards to the scope of government, it should be as small as we can possibly make it."
Donnelly's campaign later sent a press release with quotes form a speech Mourdock had made in Madison.
"I challenge you in Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution where those so-called enumerated powers are listed. I challenge you to find words that talk about Medicare or Medicaid or, yes, even Social Security," Mourdock said in April 2011 at a tea party protest. "Nowhere is the word 'entitlement' present in the enumerated powers."
The debate wrapped with a question about what the candidates would focus on first if they won the election.
Donnelly said he'd concentrate on the economy.
"What we have to do is grow jobs, we have to make sure in Washington we work together," Donnelly said. "I'm just Joe, I work with both teams. I don't care if you wear an 'R' uniform or a 'D.' I wear an American uniform."
But Mourdock said the most important job for the next senator is to put Washington on the right track and manage it like Indiana.
"Government has grown too big and costs too much," he said. "Principle is crushed by partisanship. Stand for what you believe in, and do it consistently."
The next Senate debate will be held Oct. 23 in New Albany.
Samm Quinn is a report for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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