The three candidates for U.S. Senate faced off in a relatively calm final debate Tuesday night at the Tobias Theater at Newfields in Indianapolis, one week before the Nov. 6 general election.
The debate, hosted by the Indiana Debate Commission, was moderated by PBS National Correspondent Amna Nawaz.
The candidates—Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, Republican candidate Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton—were asked about foreign policy, climate change, sexual assault and immigration, but health care seemed to be the main topic Donnelly and Braun wanted to address.
“Mike’s after your health care and your Social Security and your Medicare,” Donnelly said in his opening statement. “That's what this election is about.”
Braun also mentioned health care in his opening remarks, talking about how he created an affordable insurance plan that kept premiums steady and covered pre-existing conditions for his employees at his Jasper-based company, Meyer Distributing.
“Just like I take care of my employees, I’ll take care of Hoosiers,” Braun said.
Brenton also talked about health care, but focused on the need for the federal government to play less of a role. She said free-market solutions would better serve the public.
Donnelly stressed the importance of continuing to cover pre-existing conditions and criticized Braun for prior comments that indicated he supported a lawsuit that would allow for plans without pre-existing coverage. He also said Braun’s employees have high deductibles as part of their insurance plans.
Braun denied that he is supportive of the lawsuit, though, and said Donnelly was lumping him in with the rest of the GOP.
One thing the candidates seemed to agree on in regards to health care is making sure low-cost or free contraceptives would be available to everyone, but no details were offered.
When asked about President Donald Trump’s recent proposal to end birthright citizenship, Donnelly and Braun both said they would have see what any legislation or executive order actually said before they could comment on whether they’d support it.
Brenton said she would focus on whether the policy is good for the country or if it violates the Constitution.
The candidates were also asked whether they think the federal government needs to cut spending or find ways to increase revenue.
Braun said the federal agencies need to make small cuts that will add up to a significant difference overall.
“It’s not a revenue problem,” Braun said. “It’s a spending problem.”
Donnelly talked about the tax cuts that were approved late last year and how that legislation is expected to significantly increase the federal deficit.
Brenton accused both candidates of not really meaning what they say on the issue.
“They talk about this but as soon as they get elected, it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a red shirt or blue shirt, they still vote to raise your taxes,” Brenton said.
Donnelly used an emotional appeal in several of his answers, often encouraging voters to think about their mother or wife or child, for example, with a health condition like asthma and no longer having insurance that covers the costs.
Braun regularly touted his business experience as he has throughout his entire campaign, reminding viewers that he’s the candidate who has “done it in the real world.”
“There’s only one person here that's actually done what you’re talking about,” Braun said.
In the post-debate interview with the media, Donnelly continued to harp on Braun's position on health care.
“You cannot trust what Mike Braun says,” Donnelly said. “If you are home and you have diabetes, Mike Braun supports a lawsuit that will take your coverage away.”
Braun declined to participate in the post-debate interview.
Brenton told reporters after the debate that she knows she will pull votes away from both candidates, and she’s OK with that.
“Do I intend to spoil the election for them? Absolutely,” Brenton said. “And here’s why—something doesn’t spoil unless it's rotten, and the two-party system that has had a stranglehold on our country is absolutely rotten.”
The race is among the most-watched in the country, with Donnelly being viewed as a vulnerable incumbent in a red state.