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Brian Howey: Without debate knockout, Senate race comes down to GOTV
4/12/2012 3:21:00 PM
BY: BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS - Richard Mourdock and Dick Lugar spent an hour before a statewide televised audience Wednesday night debating the issues with civility, with neither delivering a knockout punch. It leaves this campaign to be decided by the incumbent’s ground game and the challenger’s array of outside partners who are pumping millions of dollars into the state on his behalf.
A buoyant Sen. Lugar, speaking to reporters after the debate, acknowledged the polls had been narrowing and called the debate “a turning point.”
“I thought it was a great debate and I thought it was a big turning point in the campaign,” Lugar said. “I’m very excited about the fact that heading out of this debate tonight, we’ll be putting out thousands of yard signs tomorrow and the next day, tens of thousands over the next week.” Lugar said that after making 1.1 million phone calls, the pace “will accelerate in the next few days. They will tell us who is for us, who is against us and who is undecided so that we can get a turnout.”
Lugar said that he had never been in a campaign “with such vigor on the turnout question when that is clearly going to be the difference of this campaign.”
Hours after the debate, Lugar picked up the endorsement of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association.
A week ago, the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll showed Lugar with a 42-35% lead over Mourdock, with the two evenly splitting the Republican vote. The poll, conducted March 26-28, came after Lugar had taken broad sides over his residency issue that played out before local and state election boards, and it also coincided with Club for Growth’s first six-figure advertising volley. In essence, the Howey/DePauw poll came after two of the worst political weeks in Lugar’s long history that includes six Senate victories, two Indianapolis mayoral wins along with an Indianapolis School Board win. His only loss came when he challenged U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1974. The national press seemed transfixed that an incumbent of Lugar’s stature could only conjure up 42%.
Mourdock’s problem is that he hasn’t been able to escape the 30th percentile. In the days following the Howey/DePauw Poll, the Lugar campaign has lashed back at Mourdock, saying that his Washington special interests that include the National Rifle Association, FreedomWorks and Club for Growth were essentially buying a Senate seat. This Washington trident aimed at Lugar has taken him to task for obscure energy votes, his support for President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominations, and his support for earmarks.
During the debate, Mourdock failed to work into his dialogue the Supreme Court nominees, the earmarks and NRA positions on guns. While Mourdock put forth a generally credible performance, he got tangled up with facts on ethanol and its relationship to gasoline prices, as well as the latest START treaty. On the ethanol question, Mourdock talked about a federal mandate he said began in 2005, but it actually started in 2011. None of these were egregious faux pas that the average voter would pick up on.
Asked why he thought Wednesday was a turning point, Lugar responded, “I think we both tried to respond to the questions as they were presented and I don’t have any way of divining what my opponent decided he wanted to deal with. I had the opportunity to talk about my voting record, what I’ve being doing on domestic policy as well as abroad over the past 35 years. I appreciated this opportunity. The general impression has been I’ve read press accounts and various polls and so forth that the race had been narrowing. At least that’s the impression I get reading all of this. My guess is it’s stopped narrowing and we’re going to expand, getting people out to vote.”
Lugar noted that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has also been a Tea Party/FreedomWorks target, but Hatch appears to be persevering and is expected to be renominated at a state convention in the coming weeks. “He might have been in danger and he’s doing well now,” Lugar said of Hatch. “But after that, the so-called national groups have found Indiana as the only playground. And this is where everyone is romping around. These folks have nothing to do with our state. But they have various agendas and messages they want to bring out and so as a result I have not been in a campaign where there was this much national interest. Tonight was a very good opportunity to make our case and it was one I believe we were able to take advantage.”
About half of the debate centered on foreign policy, which also worked into Lugar’s wheelhouse.
Toward the end of the debate, moderator Phil Bremen asked the two candidates to define their conservatism.
Lugar talked about his service in the U.S. Navy, his management of a small manufacturing company that made exports, and the family farm. “These are conservative elements of my life and they are expressed in my votes, and the work we have been doing, both on the economy as well in foreign policy to bring security for America.”
Mourdock responded, “I see myself as a conservative meaning, I believe in the founding fathers’ principles that the federal government needs to be restricted and limited. We have grown to the point with our government today that I don’t think our founding fathers would even begin to recognize this country for what they designed it to be.”
Mourdock said after the debate that he thought “I did pretty well. I was well prepared on all the questions and there weren’t any surprises.”
He talked about the “questions that were left out” and said, “I wish we could have talked about the 31 years I’ve had in the private sector because I think that type of experience is just as important as being knowledgeable in my time in government. Absolutely I believe I’m ready. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be here.”
Asked why he didn’t bring up Lugar’s votes for Supreme Court Justices Kagen and Sotomayor, and whether he was trying to be less combative with his statesman opponent, Mourdock said, “Honestly, standing there I didn’t think of the judges, otherwise I would have brought it up, I’m sure. The residency issue of where Mr. Lugar votes, I never talk about.” But he added, “If I’m a senator, I’m not going to be paying hotel bills in this state. I think that is inexcusable for a U.S. senator.”
Asked about the 30% of the voters who voted for Marlin Stutzman in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, Mourdock gave his political analysis: “I love that question. Here’s how I’ve looked at this race for some time: In 2010 … there were four Republicans running for the United States Senate” - Don Bates, Stutzman, John Hostettler and Richard Behney. “At the last minute, Dan Coats returned to get in this race. He was seen as the establishment candidate. On primary day, Dan Coats received 39% of the vote, which means 61% of the people who voted on primary day voted against the establishment. If Mr. Coats is seen as establishment, I think Mr. Lugar is seen as more establishment.”
Mourdock began the debate by saying that he was “shocked” when members of the Indiana Republican Central Committee urged him to run two and a half years ago. What he didn’t say was that during district reorganizations last year, seven of 10 central committee members who supported him either quit, retired or were defeated for reelection. Two key campaign aides - Rich Bramer and Diane Hubbard - also lost district races.
At the end of the debate, Mourdock grazed the residency question that had dogged Lugar, saying that he would always live in Indiana. “If I have the privilege of serving in the Senate, I’m not moving. I’ll always call Darmstadt home.”
And Mourdock said he wished the format had been a “Lincoln-Douglas” Senate debates of 1858 where “this thing could have gone back and forth.”
Asked if there was an answer that Lugar gave that crystallized the difference between the two candidates, Mourdock sighed, “Oh boy. I don’t think I can pick one particular question. I think there were a number of them where the differences were pronounced. Some of them were subtle. As I said, there are certainly many things he and I agree on. But there are those issues we differ on. How the United States is going to be a foreign power. I see our role a lot differently than he does. He wants to see us deal multilaterally through the United Nations. That’s not going to work. We need to be stronger and we have to deal from a position of strength.”
Mourdock said he didn’t anticipate a “knockout punch,” adding that his goal was to “demonstrate that Mourdock is capable, competent and conservative.”
In the final month of the campaign, the victor will be the one with the organization that turns out the vote.
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