(AP) — After struggling at times during the early Republican primary
campaign, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar sounded more like the legislator he’s been
for the past 35 years in a debate Wednesday night with Indiana Treasurer
But while the
confident Lugar often had a better grasp on the questions he was answering,
Mourdock showed more poise than the veteran lawmaker. The contrast
highlighted what has been an underlying argument from Lugar’s opponents
throughout the campaign: He needs to retire.
In all, the two
were genial toward each other throughout the hourlong debate, lacking much
of the vitriol that has dominated the campaign advertising so far. Mourdock,
at one point, blankly agreed with a vague answer from Lugar that government
should not be involved in contraceptive questions, saying “I think I’ll do a
only debate came as both ramp up their attacks in the race, which has shaped
up to be one of the toughest election battles ever for the 80-year-old
senator once considered so invincible that Democrats in 2006 chose not to
field a challenger.
anti-incumbent mood and pressure from the right to define who really is a
conservative have forced Lugar into a frantic defense as he seeks a seventh
term, and a series of polls has shown the tea party-backed Mourdock closing
In one of the
clearest distinctions between the two men, Mourdock called for an end to
corn ethanol subsidies, something Lugar has routinely backed citing
Indiana’s heavy reliance on agriculture.
The two even
disagreed on what exactly ethanol subsidies do to the price of gas, with
Lugar saying ethanol was helping to keep prices down and Mourdock saying
they were making prices higher. Lugar praised ethanol saying it lowers the
price of gasoline and helps Indiana farmers.
“It’s a Hoosier
product with Hoosiers producing it on farms here that have meant higher
values for corn and certainly higher land values in this state.”
issues, the two men often agreed with each other. Lugar at times sought to
ally himself with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, touting Ryan’s budget plan,
which has become a rallying point for many conservatives.
fairly defined the tenor of the entire race: When given the chance to shore
up his weakest spot, by defining how he is a conservative, Lugar opted for a
roundabout answer dealing with his family history and serving in the
conservative elements of my life and they’re expressed in my votes and the
work we have been doing both in the economy as well as in the foreign policy
to bring security for America,” he said. “We understand conservative
however, chose a more direct answer that hit on key words and talking points
popular with the tea partiers pushing his candidacy.
Much of the
debate focused on questions of foreign policy, Lugar’s clear strength.
Mourdock, though, challenged why Lugar didn’t support sanctions proposed by
Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl against such countries as Iran, North Korea and Syria.
that Sen. Lugar, last I knew, was still opposing,” Mourdock said. “He wanted
to do that through the U.N. I think there are times we need to act
unilaterally to put the pressure on those nations to make sure they
understand they know we care about world peace and we don’t want to see
those nations develop nuclear arms.”
Lugar said he
works daily with Kyl and that the United States leads in trying to prevent
Iran from developing nuclear capabilities.
problem is making sure we get the Russians aboard, we get the Chinese
aboard, we get others aboard who right now are undercutting those efforts,”
Lugar said. “That’s going to require some very strong diplomacy.”
Until this week,
the Lugar team had spent most of its money attacking Mourdock for his
attendance at state boards, alleging that he doesn’t personally attend
enough meetings, and attacking President Barack Obama for blocking
construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline out of Canada. But Lugar began
the week airing a statewide ad accusing Mourdock of leaning too heavily on
“D.C. outsiders” to carry him through the race.
struggled occasionally when answering intricate policy questions, meanwhile,
that played more to Lugar’s strengths. In one case, Mourdock seemed to
errantly state that a federal ethanol mandate that started in 2005 began in
The debate was a
stark difference from a nasty Republican primary battle that has been
dominated thus far by questions over Lugar’s residency and his support for
President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.
debate, a couple dozen Lugar supporters and opponents lined the street
yelling and waving signs as cars drove by.