Despite the fact that neither candidate had debated in years, Indiana senator Dick Lugar and primary challenger Richard Mourdock turned in adequate performances at their first and only debate tonight at WFYI-TV studios in Indianapolis, Ind.
During the debate, Lugar and Mourdock each played to type: The challenger took several swipes at the incumbent, while the incumbent largely ignored him. When Lugar responded to Mourdock’s charges, he did so without mentioning his opponent’s name.
Mourdock was strong out of the gate. In a segment on the economy, he blamed government regulation for high gas prices, including Lugar’s support for the ethanol mandate. In reply, Lugar argued that “the price of gasoline is much lower because of the addition of corn ethanol.” He also noted that “predictions are that the price of gasoline is going to go down.”
Mourdock disputed Lugar’s analysis: “The price of gasoline has gone up because of ethanol.”
Both candidates criticized government regulation for strangling small businesses. But Mourdock was quick to strike an independent note: “I don’t hear nearly enough of that except in campaign season. . . . I’m more frustrated with Republicans today than I am with Democrats.”
Lugar’s forte is foreign policy, and it showed when the conversation turned to international affairs. He dove into the details of his efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, leading Mourdock to admit “I don’t have nearly the same access” to information as the senator did.
But the two differed on Russia. “Russia is neither friend nor foe,” Lugar said. “It is an important country with whom we have to deal.”
“I think they are more foe than friend,” Mourdock responded. He argued that money sent by the U.S. to Russia to prevent nuclear proliferation indirectly funded the nuclear-weapons program in Iran.
“That’s not the case,” Lugar replied. “We have full control over what we’re doing.”
Finally, on contraception, Lugar and Mourdock agreed to skirt the issue. Asked about the best way to ensure women’s reproductive health in the country, Lugar responded, “We don’t think the federal government ought to be involved in reproductive health.”
Mourdock added, “I think I’ll do a ditto.”
In his closing statement, Mourdock made sure to emphasize that his campaign was “not the start of a career.” For his part, Lugar stressed that he would continue to serve the Hoosier State well.