Last night, candidates for the U.S. Senate Seat in Indiana participated in the first of two debates sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission. The three candidates on stage were Democrat Joe Donnelly, Republican Richard Mourdock, and Libertarian Andrew Horning. Each candidate was given roughly equal speaking time by the moderator.
The debate was very well-structured by the IDC, which is a non-partisan group that organizes debates for the races of Governor and U.S. Senator. Each candidate was allowed one minute for opening statements. After that, citizens selected by the IDC would read a question for the candidates to answer. Each candidate was allowed a one minute response, and then a thirty second rebuttal. Finally, each candidate was given equal time for closing statements.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to answer the question first, following a structured order that was not compromised at any point during the debate. Furthermore, candidates did not interrupt each other, nor did candidates speak out of turn. This structure and order is very different from what we have seen in the presidential and vice-presidential debates, during which candidates frequently interrupt each other.
Throughout the debate, several key issues were stressed by the questions read by Indiana citizens. The candidates constantly referred back to campaign themes and policy positions to answer these questions. What were the key issues from the debate?
The biggest issue in the debate was not the economy, or education, or health care. It was bipartisanship. The candidates mentioned bipartisanship in every single question that was asked throughout the debate. Both Mourdock and Donnelly stressed that, if elected, they would bring bipartisanship back to Washington.
The issue of partisanship was clearly seen throughout the entire debate. Donnelly and Mourdock constantly attacked each other on several issues. Mourdock called out Donnelly for supporting Obama on the stimulus and health care. Donnelly claimed that Mourdock is an extremist of the Tea Party hoping to divide Washington.
The biggest winner from this issue was Libertarian Andrew Horning. As Mourdock and Donnelly attacked each other over partisan issues, Horning clearly pointed out that the problem with Washington was the concept of “bipartisanship.” Horning stressed that having two parties control Washington is dangerous and that the current partisanship of the status quo is not going to end by voting for either Mourdock or Donnelly. He used the attacks in the debate as an example of why voters should vote for him, going against the “status quo.”
A second major issue was the economy. Each candidate offered their own positions on how to stimulate the economy and create jobs. However, there seemed to be more attacks about the economy rather than actual discussion of policy issues.
Mourdock was quick to call out Donnelly, who is a current member of the House of Representatives and a supporter of President Obama. He claimed that voting for the stimulus package and health care reform shows that Donnelly is not committed to truly helping the economy. Mourdock stated that he would lower taxes to help businesses grow and assist middle class families, thus spurring the economy.
Donnelly responded to Mourdock’s claims by discussing how the unemployment rate has fallen below 8% recently. He stated that the stimulus package created many jobs, and health care reform will lower health care costs so it will not hinder the economy in the future. He supports higher taxes on upper class Americans and lowering taxes on the middle and lower classes.
Horning used the economy issue as an opportunity to, once again, call out Mourdock and Donnelly for creating a partisan divide in the country. On the issue of taxes, Horning supports a fair tax for all Americans.
Another major issue of the debate was education. The candidates argued about both state and federal education issues. Mourdock advocated the abolishment of the Department of Education, claiming that local and state education systems will be able to handle the issue of education. He also says that he supports federal grants and loans to college students, meaning every student will be given the opportunity to obtain a good education.
Donnelly criticized Mourdock for wanting to abolish the Department of Education. He also attacked Mourdock by stating that he does not support federal grant and loan programs for college students. Donnelly promised to increase federal aid to college students if elected to office.
Finally, Horning did not provide much on the issue of education. He used this as an opportunity to repeat his message that the status quo is not working for federal policies, including that of education. He wants to end the bickering between the two parties in Washington so real policies for the nation can emerge.
And the Winner Is…
No candidate was the clear winner of the debate last night. Horning, who had nothing to lose, may have benefitted the most from the debate. By being on stage with the two candidates, he was able to attract attention that he had been lacking so far in the race. Furthermore, frustrated Lugar voters who have refused to support Mourdock may vote for Horning. This division in the Indiana Republican Party may help Donnelly win the race, as it did in the 2010 midterm election that he narrowly won for the House of Representatives.
This Senate debate is just one of many that occurred last night. Several other key races had their Senate debates as well, making last night very eventful before the presidential debate tonight. The entire Indiana Senate debate, as well as the other Senate debates, can be found online at C-SPAN. I encourage you to go watch them, as key Senate races like the Indiana race may decide which party has control of the Senate next year.