INDIANAPOLIS | It is widely believed that the U.S. Senate is a broken institution, trapped by its own rules into requiring 60 out of 100 votes to take any action.
Logic dictates bipartisan compromises, as neither party usually has the necessary votes to act on its own. Instead, the Senate in recent years has turned hyperpartisan, with both parties forgoing action on just about everything in hope of winning a supermajority in the future.
The candidates for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat, Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock, come down on opposite sides of that dilemma, with Donnelly vowing to seek compromise if elected and Mourdock committed to winning a Republican supermajority.
Hoosier voters will decide Nov. 6 which governing strategy they prefer.
Throughout the campaign, Donnelly has focused on creating jobs for Hoosiers, improving the economy and supporting middle-class families. He has argued his agenda is above partisanship.
"It's not about right or left. It's about America," Donnelly said.
Mourdock believes Indiana needs less of everything from Washington and has promised to vote to repeal Obamacare, cut spending and limit the role of government.
"I, for one, am absolutely convinced that the federal government is on the wrong track," Mourdock said.
Donnelly's record over three terms in the U.S. House confirms his willingness to turn his back on his own party. In 2011, Donnelly voted with House Democrats 63 percent of the time, one of the lowest party unity scores in an institution in which nearly all members of both parties vote the party line more than 90 percent of the time.
Mourdock said that doesn't really matter because Donnelly is a reliable Democratic vote on the big issues, such as the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus and unbalanced budgets.
"Congressman Donnelly ... you said you were a fiscal conservative once, but again I think that's where your principles have succumbed to the partisanship of D.C., and I think that's unfortunate," Mourdock said.
For Mourdock, Indiana's two-term state treasurer, nothing is more important than principles. He has promised, if elected, to campaign across the country and fill the Senate with like-minded, uncompromising conservatives who will govern according to his vision of a limited constitutional republic.
Donnelly has dubbed that approach "my way or the highway," and Donnelly's television ads regularly show Mourdock saying he believes bipartisanship is Democrats doing what Republicans want.
"It is not your principle to be bipartisan and to try to work with other people. Your principle is an unapologetic leader of the Tea Party," Donnelly said. "I would rather make sure that we could work together in Washington and in Indiana to move our country forward."
Every independent poll taken since Mourdock defeated six-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., in the May Republican primary has shown Donnelly and Mourdock statistically tied in the race to succeed him.
In the waning days of the race, both candidates are reaching out to "Lugar Republicans," GOP voters who have yet to come home to Mourdock and might still be persuaded to vote for Donnelly.
Mourdock's need to shore up his party base was never more clear than last week when he brought U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to Indianapolis.
McCain and Graham have voting records similar to Lugar, particularly when it comes to approving the U.S. Supreme Court nominees of Democratic presidents. Mourdock repeatedly hammered Lugar on that issue during the Republican primary but happily claimed the endorsement of both senators.
Donnelly, too, has pulled out all the stops, bringing former Democratic President Bill Clinton to Indiana for a joint campaign appearance earlier this month. Clinton praised Lugar as a Republican with whom he could work. Clinton said Donnelly would similarly put the good of Indiana and the nation above his party.
Oddly enough, if Lugar had won the Republican primary, he almost certainly would have been re-elected, and national Republicans could have counted on Indiana's U.S. Senate seat remaining on their side of the aisle.
Instead, national interest groups have poured tens of millions of dollars into television ads supporting and opposing both Donnelly and Mourdock as both parties try to reach the numerically significant 51 members, even though a governing coalition requires 60 senators.
The other candidate in the race, Libertarian Andrew Horning, believes the only way things will ever change in the U.S. Senate is by electing a candidate not beholden to either the Democratic or Republican parties.
"We need a peaceful revolution to end this and put things back where they belong," Horning said. "If you vote the status quo again, it's always going to be a tug-of-war, and you're always going to lose."