INDIANAPOLIS – Monday nights televised debate between Indianas 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 nations debt limit seven times and supported President Obamas 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 responded, I think you just argued with yourself.
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 had betrayed conservatives.
Just as often, Mourdock cited instances in which Donnellys congressional votes backed Obama policies that increased taxes and deficit spending.
Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning said he seemed to be standing outside this debate. 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 hourlong contest, which was in the studios of PBS station WFYI.
Thanks to some narrow questions from one another and audience members, the candidates displayed their philosophical differences.
Mourdock, for instance, defended trying to block the 2009 sale of bankrupt Chrysler on the rule of law and to protect state employees pension and retirement funds that had invested in the automakers bonds.
He said he fought the federal governments efforts to take away the property of our retired teachers and our retired cops. I took an oath of office that said I would do that, and Im proud that Ive done that.
Donnelly claimed that had Mourdock succeeded, he single-handedly could have sunk Indianas economy and put us into a recession by eliminating 100,000 auto jobs in Indiana.
I stand with workers and always will, Donnelly said.
Donnelly supported the U.S. Department of Education in general and Pell grants and low-interest student loans in particular, while Mourdock contended student scores have fallen in comparison to those in other countries and dropout rates have increased since the agencys creation in 1979.
And they bickered about the extent to which congressmen of both parties should seek compromises.
Its 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 as a past member of the Vanderburgh County commissioners.
But he said congressional compromises produced the $16 trillion debt and that principle is more important than bipartisanship.
Asked to identify a rivals stance he agreed with, Donnelly mentioned Mourdocks college savings plan for Hoosiers, while Mourdock sided with Donnelly on immigration policy that would increase border security and have illegal immigrants deport themselves before applying for work visas.
Both like the Senate farm bill that has stalled in the House and would cut $16 billion in nutrition programs. They split hairs on taxes, with Donnelly endorsing generous estate tax deductions and Mourdock advocating a small part of federal income taxes come instead from a national sales tax.
Horning, who works in medical research and sales and ran for governor in 2000 and 2008, appeared to relish his outsider status. He lamented a tug of war between the military-industrial complex and bankers and said most of what we do at the federal level is unconstitutional.
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.