INDIANAPOLIS | Despite months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent on ads by the candidates and their allies, polls continue to show Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock statistically tied in their race to become Indiana's next U.S. senator.
Could Monday's debate finally break the deadlock?
Donnelly and Mourdock, along with Libertarian Andrew Horning, will meet at 6 p.m. region time Monday in an Indianapolis television studio for the first of two one-hour debates before Election Day, Nov. 6.
Representatives from both the Mourdock and Donnelly campaigns said their candidate is looking forward to the debate as an opportunity to talk directly to Hoosier voters.
Brose McVey, Mourdock's deputy campaign manager, said Indiana's two-term state treasurer plans to highlight Donnelly's support for Democratic President Barack Obama on health care legislation and other issues, while at the same time emphasizing his own accomplishments.
"(The debates) present an opportunity to cut through the negative ads and talk about his vision to take the Indiana success story to Washington," McVey said.
Donnelly spokeswoman Elizabeth Shappell said the three-term congressman will speak about the choice Hoosiers have in the election.
"We anticipate a spirited debate between two candidates who couldn't be more different: Joe Donnelly, who wants more bipartisanship to move our country forward, and Richard Mourdock, who wants to inflict his 'my way or the highway' opinion on others," Shappell said.
Mourdock comes into Monday's clash with recent debate experience, having faced off against U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar before the May Republican primary.
Pundits declared that debate a draw, but Mourdock's ability to stand toe-to-toe with the six-term incumbent is widely believed to have helped Mourdock crush Lugar on Election Day.
Shappell said Donnelly is taking no chances by "squeezing in preparation when he can, given his busy schedule around the state."
"Mr. Mourdock demonstrated in the primary debate in April that he is a skilled debater, so we anticipate he will come very prepared and will try to attack Joe from the outset," Shappell said.
McVey said Mourdock is already familiar with the issues important to Hoosiers, given his experience in office and on the campaign trail.
"His preparation will be restricted to catching up on some rest, reading and studying Mr. Donnelly's votes for Obamacare, the stimulus, the bailouts and for Nancy Pelosi," McVey said.
The debate will be the first chance for most Hoosier voters to find out who Horning, the Libertarian candidate, is. He's made few appearances on the campaign trail, but may end up being the most important candidate in the race if "Lugar Republicans" cast their ballot for him instead of Mourdock.
The nonpartisan Indiana Debate Commission is sponsor of the debate, which will be broadcast live on Lakeshore Public Television (Channel 56) and Radio (89.1 FM) and webcast online at indianadebatecommission.com.
The three U.S. Senate candidates will meet for their final debate at 6 p.m. region time Oct. 23 in New Albany.