INDIANAPOLIS – At the end of a lively debate Tuesday night among the three candidates for an open U.S. Senate seat, Libertarian Lucy Brenton took a step away from her rivals.
"They are slinging so much mud, and I’m wearing a white suit," Brenton quipped.
Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young spent much of the hour-long debate making claims about each other and ignoring Brenton.
Young repeatedly portrayed Bayh as a Washington lobbyist who cast "the deciding vote" to turn the Affordable Care Act into law when Bayh was a senator. He called the health care law the largest tax increase in history.
Young said Bayh "took the money and ran. He joined a major lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., and he represented clients that needed relief from the very problem he created from Obamacare. … Evan, when we needed a senator the most, you left us to work for them in Washington, D.C."
Bayh, who did not seek re-election in 2010, responded that Young was "flat-out wrong" before being interrupted by the moderator.
Bayh earlier said, "Congressman Young has told so many whoppers here tonight it’s hard to keep track."
The former Indiana governor defended portions of the health care law and said Young "wants to take insurance away from 350,000 of our fellow Hoosiers" by supporting efforts to repeal it, as well as "go back to the days when insurance companies can cancel your policies just because you got sick."
The nonpartisan Indiana Debate Commission sponsored Tuesday’s debate, which was conducted at PBS television station WFYI and broadcast live.
The Bayh-Young match is among a half-dozen competitive Senate contests across the nation that will determine the political majority of the chamber, where Republicans have a 54-46 advantage heading into the Nov. 8 election. The candidates’ feistiness on Tuesday reflected what polls have shown is a tight race and analysts are calling a toss-up.
When they were not bickering with each other, Bayh and Young offered their views on:
Gun control and background checks on gun sales
Bayh said gun purchases should be denied to suspected terrorists on no-fly lists and people convicted of violent crimes.
Young said the government "should ensure that no one who is mentally ill has access to a firearm." He also said, "Your gun rights will be jeopardized should Evan Bayh become the next senator" with his prospective votes for Supreme Court nominees – which Bayh disputed, saying lawful gun owners have "got no trouble from me."
Bayh said the U.S. should "emphasize" wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, "clean coal generation" and ethanol production as ways to combat global warming.
Young did not specify what he supports to fight climate change but said that he opposes carbon taxes, which he said would hurt manufacturers and farmers.
Expanding U.S. military presence in wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan
Young – who reminded the TV audience many times that he served in Marines – said the U.S. and NATO should form a "multilateral strategy" that would include launching more airstrikes in those conflicts, "loosening the rules of engagement so we can kill more terrorists on the ground" and establishing Middle East safe havens for refugees.
Bayh said the U.S. should continue to back Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake cities from Islamic State militants, better "empower" the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security to search for terrorists and "win the war of ideas."
Young said Bayh had "skipped multiple hearings" when he was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Bayh said Young has "voted repeatedly against our veterans" on bills to fund veterans health care programs.
Time and again, Bayh and Young argued over the Affordable Care Act and whether Bayh, as a partner in a Washington law firm that does lobbying work, is in fact a lobbyist.
"It’s not true that I have ever been a lobbyist; it’s simply not true," Bayh said. "But Congressman Young is familiar with lots of them. He’s taken $160,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists, and he’s voted with the lobbyists for the big banks to repeal consumer protections. He’s voted with the lobbyists for the insurance industry. … He’s voted for the lobbyists for the tax deductions for Carrier (Corp.), that has been shipping our jobs overseas."
Young later shot back: "OK, he’s a partner with a lobbying firm. Maybe they don’t pay him $2 million not to lobby."
He also referred to Bayh as "a career politician, spewing out talking points with very little veracity."
At one point, Brenton said Bayh and Young, a member of the House from southern Indiana since 2011, have spent "so much time in Washington I’m afraid it turned you to the dark side."
Brenton said in her opening statement that TV audience members "probably don’t know who I am because I haven’t spent $30 million" on her campaign – a reference to the money that Bayh, Young and their surrogates have burned through.
Brenton, a finance professional and the mother of 10, took note of Young’s frequent mentions of his Marine Corps background by saying she is in "the mom corps."
She called the Affordable Care Act a "forced insurance scam," favored the commercial growth of hemp as an American energy source and said the U.S. should stop "these endless wars" and engage in diplomacy instead.
"Can we stop being the world’s gun salesman? … I want to stop dropping bombs on everybody," Brenton said.
Libertarian candidates have attracted only 5.6 percent of the vote in Indiana’s last two Senate elections.