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Local politics

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At a glance
What: Debate between the two candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate
Who: Six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar and second-term state Treasurer Richard Mourdock
When: 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: WFYI-TV studios in Indianapolis
Local broadcasts: WANE-TV Digital Channel 15.2; WFWA-TV Channel 39; WBOI 89.1 FM; WBNI 94.1 FM
Sponsor: Indiana Debate Commission
Moderator: Phil Bremen, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Ball State University

Senate rivals gird for debate

Mourdock risks backlash in linking Lugar to Obama

Mourdock
Lugar

In 2000, his debate opponent tried to lump U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in with a far-right Republican colleague.

On Wednesday, his debate foe is far more likely to claim Lugar, R-Ind., is aligned with a far-left Democratic president.

In 2000, Lugar rejected the notion by Democratic candidate David Johnson that Lugar’s voting record was akin to that of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Lugar is sure to do the same thing Wednesday if Republican rival Richard Mourdock paints him as a supporter of President Obama’s policies.

Lugar and Mourdock are scheduled to debate at 7 p.m. at an Indianapolis TV station. The hour-long contest, sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission, will be carried live by local television and radio stations.

The Lugar and Mourdock campaigns shared few details about preparations for their only debate ahead of the May 8 GOP primary election.

Lugar “will study and prepare as he did for the Eagle Scout or Rhodes Scholar board of review,” spokesman Andy Fisher said in an email, referring to two of Lugar’s accomplishments before he launched his political career in the 1960s.

Mourdock “will be running through a mock debate just like all candidates do before a televised debate,” campaign spokesman Christopher Conner said in an email.

Conner declined to say whether Mourdock, the second-term state treasurer, will try to link Lugar to Obama as Mourdock has done in other venues. Mourdock and his allies repeatedly have called out Lugar on his votes backing Obama on two Supreme Court nominations, providing federal aid to automakers and offering a route to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants.

Lugar, meanwhile, has trumpeted his opposition to Obama’s health care law, federal budget proposals and denial of a permit for an oil pipeline stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, the candidates’ answers at the debate will depend in large part on what questions they are asked and the time constraints of their back-and-forth.

The debate will show clear differences between Mourdock and Lugar on critical issues important to Republican primary votes, Conner said.

Lugar “may not be as good as his opponent in the bumper sticker, short answer format of a debate. But Hoosiers know he is a thoughtful leader who prepares himself each day for work and acting in the best interest of the state and country,” Fisher said.

This will be Lugar’s first election debate since the three that he and Johnson had in 2000. Democrats did not run a candidate in the 2006 election, and Lugar has not been challenged in the GOP primary since taking office in 1977.

“For Lugar, the upside is that he can address many of the internal Republican criticisms that he has not been ideological enough or aggressive enough against the Obama administration,” said Michael Wolf, a political scientist at IPFW, in an email interview. “He will be able to point to his voting record and the voting scores put out by interest groups and conservative groups to thwart the notion that he’s not a conservative.”

Wolf said Mourdock, “wins by walking on stage with Lugar because it elevates him, but he has to deliver with pretty sound policy decisions.”

Mourdock must show “familiarity with areas of policy that might not be in his expertise,” Wolf said, while Lugar needs to demonstrate he is “a Hoosier through-and-through” after challenges regarding his residency status.

Lugar owns a farm in Indianapolis but has lived in Virginia since his first year in the Senate and stays in hotels when visiting Indiana.

Energy issues and high gasoline prices are among topics the Wednesday debate might cover, judging by questions the debate panel said it has received from the public.

The Lugar and Mourdock camps have been bickering recently over Lugar’s stated support in 2009 for increasing the federal gasoline tax as a means to reduce America’s dependence on oil and encourage the development of alternative fuels.

Lugar’s campaign complains that Mourdock’s barbs fail to mention that Lugar at the time advocated reducing payroll taxes to offset any boost in the 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax – or that he was championing an idea advanced by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Lugar has been on the offensive, too, touting his 98 percent career attendance for Senate votes while charging that Mourdock has skipped two-thirds of the meetings of boards he sits on as the state treasurer.

Mourdock’s retort is that like Gov. Mitch Daniels – who once worked for and has endorsed Lugar – he sends staff members to meetings he cannot attend.

While this will be their only debate of the campaign, Lugar and Mourdock are scheduled for a joint appearance in Fort Wayne on April 30.

Each is to speak at the Allen County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner at Ceruti’s Summit Park.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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