INDIANAPOLIS – Monday night’s televised debate between Indiana’s candidates for a U.S. Senate seat approached the feistiness of their campaigns’ TV commercials.
Early on, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, called Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock "an unapologetic leader of the tea party movement."
Mourdock noted that Donnelly considers himself a fiscal conservative but voted to increase the nation's debt limit seven times and supported President Obama's health care law.
"Your principles were caved," Mourdock told Donnelly.
At one point when they were quibbling over the value of bipartisanship, Donnelly said, "We have a Mourdock versus Mourdock debate going on."
To which Mourdock soon responded, "I think you just argued with yourself."
Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning said he seemed to be "standing outside this debate."
Donnelly a few times evoked the name of six-term Sen. Richard Lugar – "an American hero" – whom Mourdock defeated in the Republican primary election. He scolded Mourdock for saying Lugar "betrayed" conservatives.
Just as often, Mourdock cited instances in which Donnelly's congressional votes backed Obama's policies.
Horning said about his rivals, "As cogs in this machine, they cannot fix this machine," adding that the federal government "is corrupt."
The non-partisan Indiana Debate Commission sponsored the hour-long contest, which was in the studios of PBS station WFYI.
Thanks to some direct and rather pointed questions from one another and audience members, the candidates displayed their philosophical differences.
Mourdock, for instance, defended trying to block the sale of bankrupt Chrysler on "the rule of law" and to protect state pension and retirement funds that had invested in the automaker's bonds. Donnelly claimed that had Mourdock succeeded, he "single handedly could have sunk Indiana's economy" by eliminating 100,000 auto jobs.
Donnelly supported the U.S. Department of Education, while Mourdock contended student scores have fallen and dropout rates have increased since its existence.
And they bickered about the value of congressmen of both parties working together to seek compromises.
"It's the hallmark of my career," Donnelly said, naming Gov. Mitch Daniels, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., as Republicans with whom he has worked.
Mourdock said he has worked with Democrats in the Indiana legislature and the Vanderburgh County commissioners. But he said bipartisan efforts produced the $16 trillion debt and that "principle is more important than" bipartisanship.
Dozens of Mourdock supporters lined Meridian Street outside WFYI studios an hour before the debate, many of them holding signs with the message "Say No to Joe."
The three candidates will debate again at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in New Albany.
For more on this story, pick up Tuesday's Journal Gazette or return to www.journalgazette.net after 3 a.m.