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Lugar strong, but Mourdock more poised in debate

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After struggling at times during the early Republican primary campaign, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar sounded more like the legislator he's been for the past 35 years in a debate Wednesday night with Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

But while the confident Lugar often had a better grasp on the questions he was answering, Mourdock showed more poise than the veteran lawmaker. The contrast highlighted what has been an underlying argument from Lugar's opponents throughout the campaign: He needs to retire.

In all, the two were genial toward each other throughout the hourlong debate, lacking much of the vitriol that has dominated the campaign advertising so far. Mourdock, at one point, blankly agreed with a vague answer from Lugar that government should not be involved in contraceptive questions, saying "I think I'll do a ditto."

The candidates' only debate came as both ramp up their attacks in the race, which has shaped up to be one of the toughest election battles ever for the 80-year-old senator once considered so invincible that Democrats in 2006 chose not to field a challenger.

A strong anti-incumbent mood and pressure from the right to define who really is a conservative have forced Lugar into a frantic defense as he seeks a seventh term, and a series of polls has shown the tea party-backed Mourdock closing in recently.

In one of the clearest distinctions between the two men, Mourdock called for an end to corn ethanol subsidies, something Lugar has routinely backed citing Indiana's heavy reliance on agriculture.

The two even disagreed on what exactly ethanol subsidies do to the price of gas, with Lugar saying ethanol was helping to keep prices down and Mourdock saying they were making prices higher. Lugar praised ethanol saying it lowers the price of gasoline and helps Indiana farmers.

"It's a Hoosier product with Hoosiers producing it on farms here that have meant higher values for corn and certainly higher land values in this state."

On domestic issues, the two men often agreed with each other. Lugar at times sought to ally himself with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, touting Ryan's budget plan, which has become a rallying point for many conservatives.

One exchange fairly defined the tenor of the entire race: When given the chance to shore up his weakest spot, by defining how he is a conservative, Lugar opted for a roundabout answer dealing with his family history and serving in the military.

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

Mourdock, however, chose a more direct answer that hit on key words and talking points popular with the tea partiers pushing his candidacy.

Much of the debate focused on questions of foreign policy, Lugar's clear strength. Mourdock, though, challenged why Lugar didn't support sanctions proposed by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl against such countries as Iran, North Korea and Syria.

"It's something that Sen. Lugar, last I knew, was still opposing," Mourdock said. "He wanted to do that through the U.N. I think there are times we need to act unilaterally to put the pressure on those nations to make sure they understand they know we care about world peace and we don't want to see those nations develop nuclear arms."

Lugar said he works daily with Kyl and that the United States leads in trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities.

"The real problem is making sure we get the Russians aboard, we get the Chinese aboard, we get others aboard who right now are undercutting those efforts," Lugar said. "That's going to require some very strong diplomacy."

Until this week, the Lugar team had spent most of its money attacking Mourdock for his attendance at state boards, alleging that he doesn't personally attend enough meetings, and attacking President Barack Obama for blocking construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline out of Canada. But Lugar began the week airing a statewide ad accusing Mourdock of leaning too heavily on "D.C. outsiders" to carry him through the race.

Mourdock struggled occasionally when answering intricate policy questions, meanwhile, that played more to Lugar's strengths. In one case, Mourdock seemed to errantly state that a federal ethanol mandate that started in 2005 began in 2011.

The debate was a stark difference from a nasty Republican primary battle that has been dominated thus far by questions over Lugar's residency and his support for President Obama's Supreme Court nominees.

Before the debate, a couple dozen Lugar supporters and opponents lined the street yelling and waving signs as cars drove by.

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  • Follow the bouncing crucifix
    "I think I'll do a ditto" tells you all you need to know here. BTW Mr. Mourdick, ethanol
    subsides raise FOOD prices, not gas prices.
    Please review your playbook before your next public appearance.
  • Moving back
    Maybe if the the State Leg would foster an environment where people who have made money could move back and not pay 50% back to the state than Lugar would come back.
  • Point Lugar
    Lugar OWNED mourdock... that guy doesn't even know what time it is
  • Chief Investment Officer
    Terry is absolutely wrong. The Treasurer's main job is to manage the State's investments. Mr. Mourdock has NOTHING to do with the management of The State Board of Accounts..those people are all hired by Lugar supporter Mitch Daniels...Mr. Mourdock's investments have earned over a $ Billion dollars during his tenure as Treasurer. It is misinformation like this that is the mainstay of Lugar's negative campaign..time for a change is now....!
  • Where will you retire
    I would ask just one question, if you "retire" Mr Lugar, will you move back to Indiana?
    Yeah i doubt that too.
    good luck Mourdock
    • agreed
      well said Jake - He did a great job in the distant past, but he might do better running as a democrat.
    • Support Mourdock
      Mr. Lugar has done his good work for Indiana. Now it is time to retire. Mourdock had answers straight out, and Lugar looked more like he was searching for words. He kept moving back and forth as if to keep himself awake! And when you don't live in Indiana, how can you know what we are about?
      Lugar is not supported by the NRA, the 2nd Amendment doesn't seem that important to Lugar. Lugar voted for the last two liberal Supreme Court justices, which tells me he isn't thinking about Indiana nor the Constituion of the United States.
      Mr. Lugar, I really would like to shake your hand and say thanks. But it's time to enjoy your retirement, maybe even on that farm you said you manage here in Indiana!
    • Support Lugar
      I remain committed to Senator Lugar. I was willing to listen to Mr. Mourdock until the accounting review of the misplaced and unaccounted for $540 Million Dollars in the State's General Fund that is the responsibility of Mr. Mourdock. Don't talk to me about a software glitch, this was a case of failure to understand basic accounting principles.

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