News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Election 2012

April 12, 2012

Friendly debate

Lugar, Mourdock face off with civil war of words

INDIANAPOLIS — Voters who tuned in to the lone debate between longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and his tea party opponent, Richard Mourdock, may have been disappointed if they expected to see a heated battle.

The Republican primary opponents who had ramped up attacks on each other through a blitz of recent campaign ads were downright civil to each other.

During the hour-long televised debate, broadcast from the local public television station in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening, they found themselves agreeing with each other on much.

Both vowed to repeal President Obama’s health care law, push up the Social Security age, roll back government regulations on business, and cut back on Medicaid and Medicare entitlements.

Mourdock insisted he’d be tougher on foreign enemies than Lugar, who’s made his name as an elder statesman for his work on the Senate foreign affairs committee.

Yet the 80-year-old Lugar — a six-term incumbent facing his toughest election in years — repeatedly referred to Mourdock, 60, as his “friend.”

Mourdock, meanwhile, saved the barbed language that had become commonplace on the campaign trail. At one point, Mourdock replied “I think I’ll do a ditto” to an answer Lugar gave about his opposition to federal support for reproductive services.

It wasn’t until the last moments of the debate that there was a hint of the heated campaign that Mourdock — the state treasurer on his second term — has waged against Lugar, a Republican establishment favorite.

It came when Mourdock vowed to live in Indiana if elected. “I am proud to call this state home,” Mourdock said. “It is a place that, if I have the privilege of serving as your U.S. Senator, I’m not moving from.”

It was a not-so-subtle reference to the political beating that Lugar has taken over his residency. Democrats and tea party members alike have criticized Lugar for selling his Indiana home in 1977 after he was elected to the Senate and then charging taxpayers for hotel stays when he came back to visit.

Yet both Lugar and Mourdock claimed victory, in a post-debate press briefing.

“This is a big turning point in the campaign,” said Lugar, referring to a recent poll that showed Mourdock closing in on the incumbent’s lead.

“I didn’t come into this debate expecting a knock-out punch,” said Mourdock.

Instead, he said, he got what he wanted: To show, he said, that he was “capable, competent and conservative.”

“I think we proved that,” Mourdock said.

Lugar acknowledged that his long political career may be in the balance. Mourdock’s supporters, including the National Rifle Association, the tea party umbrella group Freedom Works, and the anti-tax Club for Growth, have vowed to spend millions of dollars to unseat Lugar.

Lugar said he’s never been in campaign that had attracted so much national attention.

It wasn’t just money he was talking about; among the nearly 40 credentialed media members who covered Wednesday’s debate were reporters from the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the PBS NewsHour.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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