INDIANAPOLIS | Both Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock claimed victory following the first U.S. Senate debate Monday, which saw the candidates clash repeatedly on issues of policy and partisanship.
Donnelly struck first, and often, blasting Mourdock for claiming Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, wanting to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and threatening thousands of Hoosier jobs by suing to shut down Chrysler.
"Your principle is an unapologetic leader of the Tea Party movement," Donnelly said. "I would rather make sure that we can work together in Washington and in Indiana to move our country forward."
Mourdock disavowed the Tea Party label saying he was elected state treasurer as a Republican. He chided Donnelly, a three-term congressman, for claiming to be independent while voting for Democratic President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, stimulus plans and budget deficits.
"We can't just have people caving in to the partisan pressure," Mourdock said. "I stand with the principle that government has grown too big and costs too much."
Throughout the one hour debate, Donnelly returned again and again to the theme of bipartisanship, a shot at Mourdock who famously redefined the term as Democrats doing what Republicans want.
"It's the hallmark of my career — working together across the aisle to make sure we get things done," Donnelly said.
Mourdock agreed working together is important, but not at the cost of sacrificing core principles — such as Donnelly's supposed belief in small government.
"Mr. Donnelly, you voted for Obamacare. You can't make government bigger than to vote for something like Obamacare," Mourdock said.
Both candidates appealed to "Lugar Republicans" during the debate, asking for votes from Hoosier supporters of Republican U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, who Mourdock defeated in the GOP primary.
Donnelly chastised Mourdock for claiming Lugar "betrayed" Republicans by being willing to work with Democrats and vowed to take up Lugar's bipartisan mantle. Mourdock pointed out Lugar endorsed him over Donnelly.
Amid the back-and-forth between Donnelly and Mourdock, Libertarian Andrew Horning emphatically argued the only way to really change America is to shock the two-party system and elect an outsider like him.
"I think both of these guys are honorable, it's just I operate on a different paradigm and I choose not to operate as a cog within the machine," Horning said. "You don't want to vote for the status quo again."
The three candidates will meet for their final debate Oct. 23 in New Albany.