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Fiery startup v. stalwart statesman

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Lugar fans also rallied at the debate site.

By Samm Quinn
The Statehouse File


Sen. Richard Lugar and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock shied away from personal attacks in a GOP primary debate Wednesday and focused on their own strengths — the incumbent displaying his foreign policy credentials and the challenger wooing tea party voters.

Mourdock called for the elimination of the federal energy, education, commerce, and housing and urban development agencies. He said he'd already developed a "rudimentary" budget that would cut $7.6 trillion over the next 10 years.

And Mourdock said he'd push for a return to the federal government the nation's founding fathers created — one that left most decisions to states.

"I want to see us roll back government, not simply as an academic exercise but to provide greater freedom to individuals," Mourdock said.

Lugar, meanwhile, said he's spent 35 years in Congress making tough decisions about government every day. Although the Mourdock campaign has attacked Lugar's long tenure in Washington D.C., the incumbent senator highlighted his service during the one hour, televised debate.

Lugar touted a voting record lauded by business groups and said he'd voted to cut budgets, to take tough steps to save Social Security and block the Democrats' federal health care law.

He talked of the importance of limited, constitutional government but said "some of us actually have to vote for these principles and I look forward to those opportunities every day."

Wednesday's event was sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission and carried live by 51 TV and radio outlets, including C-SPAN.

Questions came from Hoosier voters who either asked them in person, via video or through the moderator Phil Bremen, a telecommunications professor at Ball State University.


Mourdock fans rally outside the WFYI studios.

Although Mourdock said he and Lugar would agree on much throughout the debate and campaign, there was much they disagreed on, as well.

Mourdock blamed a federal mandate that requires refiners to blend gas with corn ethanol in part for high prices at the pump. He said he opposes the mandate – as he opposes nearly all mandates.

But Lugar defended the use of corn ethanol — both as a way to bring down gas prices and to support the Indiana economy, where he said ethanol has raised the price of corn and the value of farmland.

The candidates also disagreed on the United States' presence in Afghanistan and foreign policy.

Mourdock said U.S. troops should still be present in Afghanistan to fortify defenses against Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.

"In Afghanistan, I know people are tired of having our troops there," he said. "We cannot turn our tail and run. We cannot lead from behind."

But Lugar said we need to guide Afghans to secure their territory and then use covert operations and intelligence to strike the Taliban when and where necessary.

"I think it's important to say that our strategy as a country is undergoing a turn that is an important one," he said. "I look forward to working closely with the defense department."

It wasn't until the closing minutes of the debate when Mourdock attacked Lugar's residency, an issue that has dominated much of the early advertising in the race.

Lugar and his wife reside in Virginia, but he owns a farm in Indiana. While visiting Indiana, Lugar mostly stays in hotels, which Mourdock disagrees with.

If Hoosiers elect him, Mourdock says he plans to be in touch with Mourdock and he won't move away from Darmstadt, Ind., where he currently resides.

"I'm proud to call this state home. I look forward to traveling this state," he said. "I'm not moving."

But Lugar emphasized his own Hoosier roots. He talked about his family farm, a business where he worked with his grandfather to "create new jobs, create new products, create new markets abroad and hire new people."

"These are conservative elements in my life and they are expressed in my votes," he said, "and the work we've been doing both with the economy as well as in foreign policy to bring security for America."

Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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