Mourdock, Lugar share common ground at Indiana Senate debate amid fiery primary

ByRachel Rose Hartman
April 11, 2012, 10:09 PM

— -- Instead of creating fireworks at Wednesday night's Indiana Republican Senate debate, Sen. Dick Lugar and challenger Richard Mourdock found themselves agreeing on many issues, cordially referring to one another as "friend" and veiling their most virulent attacks as they met for their only debate prior to the May 8 primary.

Mourdock, who serves as Indiana's treasurer, opened the debate by saying the two Republicans do share common ground, but the forum would show they "disagree on much."

Yet the two candidates found themselves agreeing on entitlement spending, Medicare and Medicaid, Obamacare, on some foreign policy issues and in their opposition to government regulation.

"I agree with my friend on the points he's made," Lugar, a longtime incumbent first elected in 1976, said of Mourdock after Mourdock explained the necessity of reforming Medicare and Medicaid.

Earlier, Mourdock had paid a compliment to Lugar, a well-known foreign policy expert who currently serves as ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. When I was "asked to run," Mourdock said, "I was surprised, because all of us have great respect for Senator Lugar's time on the Foreign Relations Committee."

In between the niceties, Mourdock worked to draw contrasts throughout the one-hour debate, held in Indianapolis.

Mourdock claimed a government mandate to include ethanol in gas was driving up prices overall. Lugar disagreed, saying that the mandate he supported has helped keep the overall price of gas stable, and that ethanol is a "Hoosier product with Hoosiers producing it."

Mourdock took a harder line than Lugar on Russia, saying the country is "more foe than friend" after Lugar said the country was neither. And Mourdock suggested Lugar didn't understand the meaning of "fungible" when the senator pushed back against Mourdock's assertion that U.S. funds to Russia are reaching potential enemies.

Many of Mourdock's attacks were aimed at Republicans in Congress. When Lugar stated Republicans' shared objective to roll back government regulation, Mourdock responded by saying: "I don't hear nearly enough of that except in campaign season." Mourdock added he is "more frustrated" with Republicans than Democrats because his party isn't successfully pushing back enough against regulation.

In one of the few glimpses Wednesday night of the real battle playing out on state airwaves, Mourdock in his closing statement said that if elected, he would not be "moving from" the state. Lugar has been under fire for living in Virginia while claiming a residency in Indiana he does not use.

Mourdock also attempted to attack the senator on supporting Social Security for illegal immigrants. But Lugar denied the charge, saying he "did not have votes for illegal Social Security payments."

Lugar's reputation for bucking his party has made him a major primary target this election season as conservatives argue that he's too moderate for Indiana, an anti-incumbent sentiment permeates the nation and tea party support lines up behind Mourdock. The National Rifle Association and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth have invested in this race in the hopes of making an example out of Lugar.

A Howey/DePauw poll of likely voters conducted in late March found Lugar leading Mourdock by a slim 7 percent margin: 42 percent to 35 percent. Typically, an incumbent who polls below 50 percent is believed to be in serious jeopardy of losing his or her seat.

The senator touted his record Wednesday night in response to a question about what it means to be a conservative, claiming a "35-year conservative voting record," his volunteer service in the Navy, life as a farmer and ratings from various business and conservative groups "are conservative elements of my life and they're expressed in my votes."

While Mourdock spent much of Wednesday's televised debate touting smaller government and fewer regulations, Lugar touted his longtime experience. Responding to a question on Israel, Lugar mentioned meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three weeks prior. Lugar also noted the the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) nonproliferation program following the Cold War.

Early absentee voting in Indiana began April 9.

Democratic hopes of capturing the seat hinge on the result of the May 8 primary. Democratic odds of overtaking Lugar's seat are significantly lower if Lugar, a longtime member who boasts historical support from Democrats and independents, is in the race.

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