The first and only debate among the three Indiana candidates for U.S. Senate gave Democratic hopeful Tom McDermott a rare opportunity to verbally spar with Republican Sen. Todd Young, who is seeking another six-year term as the state’s senior senator.
During the debate—moderated by Laura Merrifield Wilson, associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis and hosted by the not-for-profit, nonpartisan Indiana Debate Commission—the candidates discussed inflation, high medical costs, the 2020 election, abortion and same-sex marriage, among other issues.
The debate also featured Libertarian James Sceniak, a behavioral therapist who works with children with autism, though Young and McDermott got more words in, often rebutting the other’s talking points.
At one point, Wilson asked Young and McDermott to limit their rebuttals in order to get through all of the evening’s questions, some of which were submitted by the public.
McDermott, the longtime mayor of Hammond, is looking to turn a Senate seat blue for the first time since 2019, when Democrat Joe Donnelly was replaced by Republican Sen. Mike Braun, who defeated Donnelly in the 2018 election.
McDermott took repeated shots at Young’s position on abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change, while Young pointed to his bipartisan record of working with Democrats.
When asked how he would help Hoosiers struggling with inflation and the rising cost of living, Young said the U.S. needs to deregulate the oil and gas industries to bring more “homegrown” oil and gas online. He also blamed the Biden administration’s spending policies for the nation’s current economic woes.
“The first thing they did when they came into office was rush through a stimulus bill, which led to all manner of inflation,” Young said.
Sceniak suggested that the U.S. repeal the Jones Act, a 1920 law that limits how much cargo can be transported by sea.
McDermott said the nation’s debt has only grown since Young took office while noting that inflation is a global issue.
“He wants us to believe that Joe Biden is 100% responsible for the nation’s problems right now,” McDermott said. “He shares no responsibility for that.”
The discussion on abortion gave McDermott the opportunity to go on the offensive, attacking Young for voting to confirm three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
In the wake of that decision, Indiana was the first to state without a “trigger law” to pass a sweeping abortion ban that made the practice illegal in almost all cases.
McDermott said Young was opposed to abortion in all cases, a point Young refuted.
In 2016, Indiana Right to Life published a survey that showed Young indicating that abortion should be illegal in all cases. Young has since said that he supports exceptions.
“I do accept exceptions today,” Young said, “and I’ll accept whatever the people of Indiana decide.”
Young also emphasized that abortion should be left up to individual states, which the Supreme Court effectively decided when it voted to overturn the 1973 landmark decision.
McDermott said laws surrounding abortion, like civil rights, should be adjudicated at the federal level.
“There are some rights that have to be established by the Supreme Court and cannot be taken away,” he said.
The Dobbs decision over abortion rights also raised questions about constitutionally protected rights like contraception and same-sex marriage.
When asked whether he thought federal protections should be in place for these rights, Young said that was an issue of settled law and accused Democrats of looking for a wedge issue to distract Americans from inflation ahead of the midterm elections.
He also questioned why the government regulated marriage altogether.
McDermott said it was “abysmal” that Young chose not to say whether he supports such federal protections.
“I think it’s a disgrace that we’re even fearing that the U.S. Supreme Court could take away another right,” he said.
High medical costs
The Inflation Reduction Act capped monthly insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries, but Americans with private health care plans who suffer from diabetes often pay hundreds of dollars a month in out-of-pocket costs for medication to treat their condition.
When asked if he would support additional legislation to cap those costs, McDermott criticized Young for voting against the Inflation Reduction Act.
“All you have to do is take a look at his campaign finance report and realize how much money he takes in from the pharmaceutical industry,” McDermott said.
Young said he supported lowering costs for Medicare patients while accusing Democrats of political maneuvering by tying the provision to the inflation bill.
“Republicans voted on a package I supported that would have ensured we brought the uninsured along,” Young said. “Democrats couldn’t go it for it because it didn’t allow them to have a campaign issue.”
Young acknowledged that climate change is real and caused by human activity, though he questioned to what degree humans were responsible.
“I think sometimes their level of precision makes me skeptical,” Young said of climate scientists.
McDermott again criticized Young for voting against the Inflation Reduction Act, which included investments in green energy.
“We need to explain to the American people why we’re doing what we’re doing, and then we need to convince China, India and the rest of the world to follow our example in America.”
Young said he has supported investments in green energy while arguing that the Inflation Reduction Act “doesn’t do much to help global warming.”
Young was instrumental in the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, an incentives package for the American semiconductor industry that he co-sponsored along with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
McDermott said the bill contributes to inflation, which Young took to mean that McDermott would not have voted in favor of the bill—a claim McDermott later refuted.
“He worked with Joe Biden to help pass that,” McDermott said. “It’s inflationary and it adds to our nation’s debt.”
Young called the bill a signature achievement for both parties.
“Every single Democrat, if I recall, supported the CHIPS and Science Act, except for Bernie Sanders,” Young said following the debate. “I guess Mayor McDermott aspires to join Bernie Sanders when it comes to this.”
McDermott said he was merely pointing out that the CHIPS Act was a spending bill.
Areas of consensus
All three candidates agreed that the U.S. needs to support Ukranians in the fight against Russian invaders.
On the 2020 election, the candidates all agreed that Joe Biden is the rightful president, though McDermott attacked Young for being “two-faced” by telling Jan. 6 protesters that he believed Trump won the election. In fact, Young said he “shared the conviction” that Trump should remain president but added that, “our opinions don’t matter; the law matters,” as Politico’s Adam Wren noted on Twitter.
Sceniak said elected office holders must listen seriously to Hoosiers who are concerned that their votes are not counted.
The candidates all agreed that the country’s immigration system needed reforms, but McDermott and Young each blamed the other party for the current situation at the southern border.
The debate is archived on YouTube.
Election Day is Nov. 8.