INDIANAPOLIS – Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and his primary-election opponent, Richard Mourdock, dressed alike for their debate Wednesday: navy suits, blue shirts, white-dotted red ties, American flag lapel pins.
Many of their answers were the same, too.
Each called for relaxing government regulations on businesses, repealing President Obamas health care law and gradually increasing the age to receive Social Security benefits.
At one point, Mourdock said he favors turning Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, into block grants for states and freezing its spending for 10 years. Medicare, the health insurance plan for older Americans, should be offered to those younger than 55 as tax-deductible health savings accounts, Mourdock said, and health insurance providers should be allowed to operate across state lines.
I am in general agreement with my friend on points he has made, Lugar said about Mourdocks take on Medicaid and Medicare.
At another point, Lugar, the six-term incumbent, said the federal government should not have a role in reproductive services.
I think Ill do a ditto, said Mourdock, the second-term state treasurer.
In his closing comments, Mourdock said, As youve heard tonight, we have differences.
Not many. Unlike the almost daily accusations and rebuttals between their campaigns, Mourdock and Lugar were mostly on the same page during their only debate in advance of the May 8 Republican primary election.
They did part ways on whether government-mandated blending of ethanol into gasoline led to increased gas prices – Mourdock said it does, while Lugar insisted the addition of ethanol reduces the price while helping Hoosier corn growers.
And they differed in their responses to a question on whether Russia is a U.S. friend or foe.
Russia is neither friend nor foe; it is an important country with whom we have to deal, Lugar said. Id say we have come a long way since the Cold War.
Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Russia remains an authoritarian government and that the U.S. should employ very strong diplomacy with its leaders while working with Russian dissidents to advance democracy and human rights.
I think they are more foe than friend, Mourdock said, accusing Russia of aiding the governments of Iran and Syria and continuing to occupy former Soviet satellite Georgia.
Lugar said Mourdock was wrong to suggest Russia is diverting funds from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to help anti-American regimes in the Mideast.
About the only time either candidate got testy was after Mourdock claimed Lugar voted to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants, an apparent reference to the DREAM Act, legislation that would have provided a route to citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.
That is unfair, Lugar responded, denying he had cast such votes. Lugar did support the DREAM Act.
The non-partisan Indiana Debate Commission sponsored Wednesdays contest, which was at WFYI-TV and broadcast by 51 TV and radio stations in Indiana.
The questions were chosen from 223 submitted by 156 people who responded to the commissions invitation for public input.
Asked what could be done to cut the $15 trillion federal debt, Lugar, 80, urged the passage of the remarkable House budget plan and the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. Mourdock, 60, called for the elimination of the Energy, Education, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development departments.
Asked about prospects for reducing the U.S. militarys presence abroad, Mourdock decried an inexcusable foreign policy failure in our withdrawal from Iraq and said the Obama administration cannot lead from behind.
Saying the U.S. is not going to have troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, Lugar favored efforts to fortify U.S. military strength in Asia and using intelligence resources more skillfully.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, in the November general election. Donnelly is unopposed in the Democratic primary election.