Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly dove into their first televised debate Monday by framing the race for the U.S. Senate as a high-stakes battle between upholding partisan principles and reaching across party lines.
Mourdock, a Tea Party favorite who knocked off longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in a brutal May primary, drew himself as the “principled” man who would withstand the temptation to compromise, and blamed the unwillingness of others to do so for the country’s $16 trillion national debt.
Democrat Joe Donnelly hailed the virtues of bipartisan collaboration, blamed Mourdock’s “principles” for nearly destroying the auto industry in Indiana, and called Lugar — the man Mourdock forced into retirement — a “true American hero” that more politicians should emulate.
The third party candidate, Libertarian Andy Horning, used the sharp exchanges between the men to argue that disenchanted voters should pick him.
“I think you’re going to see what’s going to happen,” Horning said, after Donnelly and Mourdock threw some verbal elbows at each other. “It’s always going to be a tug of war and you’re always going to lose.”
Mourdock and Donnelly warred with each other through the debate, hitting on points highlighted in their escalating series of TV ads that paint their opponent as a force for no-good. Mourdock blamed Donnelly, a U.S. Congressman from South Bend, for helping to blow up the federal budget.
“I think that principle is what is really at stake here, and I stand with the principle that government has grown too big and costs too much,” Mourdock said, early in the debate.
Donnelly seized on the comment to draw attention to Mourdock’s support from Tea Party members, credited for his toppling of Lugar.
“Your principle is an unapologetic leader of the Tea Party movement, and that’s fine,” Donnelly said. “I would rather make sure that we can work together in Washington and in Indiana to move our country forward.”