NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock stuck almost exclusively to Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly's vote in favor of the federal health care law in their final debate Tuesday, while Donnelly continued to paint Mourdock as a partisan extremist.
Throughout their second meeting, Mourdock and Donnelly mentioned U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's name five times, as the two candidates stay plying the veteran lawmaker's supporters with two weeks left until the election.
Mourdock said he and Lugar were united in wanting Republicans to control the U.S. Senate. Donnelly countered that if party leadership were so important, the Republican would not have spent the primary "knee-capping" Lugar.
Donnelly argued again Tuesday that he would carry on the legacy of Lugar and former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh in Washington, while criticizing Mourdock for saying Washington needs more partisanship, not less. The Democratic congressman's repeated hits spurred Mourdock to fall off script at one point during the hourlong debate.
"His only attacks on me are to take things out of context," Mourdock said, shortly before getting choked up while talking about the nation's financial woes.
Donnelly countered that he's only using Mourdock's gaffes against him.
"The words I talk about are Mr. Mourdock's, so we're back to the Mourdock versus Mourdock debate," Donnelly said.
Mourdock and Donnelly have been locked in a neck-and-neck battle since Mourdock unseated Lugar in May's Republican primary. The race has proved a surprising chance for Democrats to potentially pick up what would have been a safe Republican seat had Lugar won re-election. The tight battle and high stakes have spurred national stars from both parties to descend on Indiana and drawn more than $22 million in ad spending.
Libertarian Andrew Horning joined the two on stage, but often seemed to be playing on a different field than Mourdock and Donnelly. At points he sounded amazed that nobody had thought of voting for a Libertarian to combat the partisan gridlock.
"When you have two parties bickering like this, sometimes you have to have a marriage counselor come in," Horning said in between one of many Mourdock and Donnelly exchanges.
A large number of state and local police gathered at Indiana University Southeast Campus on Tuesday, amid concerns from the Indiana Debate Commission that union members attending the debate might be disruptive.
About 70 Mourdock supporters and tea party activists gathered outside the auditorium Tuesday evening, waving signs for Mourdock. About 100 auto workers and union members cheered "Let's Go Joe!"
Hoosiers for Conservative Senate co-founder Greg Fettig said he could not get a ticket because the auto workers swiped them up too fast last week. Joey Tudesque, a retired auto worker who used to buy parts for the Chrysler plants in Kokomo, argued that tickets were available on a first-come, first-served basis.