MISHAWAKA — The Republican and Democratic hopefuls for Indiana’s 2nd District U.S. House seat clashed in a debate Tuesday night, only days before voters weigh-in at the polls.
They repeated familiar messages from the campaign trail, with Republican Jackie Walorski touting her record as a member of the Indiana House and efforts by state lawmakers during her 2005 to 2010 stint to control spending and reverse a budget deficit. That, she maintains, can be a model in Washington, D.C.
“We can balance the budget, we can cut regulation in this country and we can get our nation back to work,” she said. “I’m choosing the Hoosier way.”
Democrat Brendan Mullen, a former member of the U.S. Army now running a consulting firm, touted his military and business experience and the need for Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. to work together.
“I’m running for Congress because we can do better than professional politicians. Hoosiers deserve better,” said Mullen. “The bickering and finger-pointing won’t create jobs, reduce our deficit ... Working together will.”
As on the campaign trail, there were sharp exchanges and plenty of attacks between the two sides, on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and other issues. Walorski calls for the repeal of Obamacare, while Mullen says parts of it are good and touts removal only of the “bad” sections.
In discussing Obamacare, Mullen accused Walorski of using “fuzzy math” when she said the health care overhaul would cut $700 billion in Medicare funding. Fact-checking organizations have said the Medicare drop actually reflects a reduction in future growth, not a dip from current funding levels.
Mullen, a moderate Democrat, also charged that Walorski, a fiscal and social conservative with tea party backing, has “zero record” of working with Democrats.
Walorski, for her part, criticized Mullen’s intermediary position on Obamacare, favoring the good and opposing the bad, saying “there is no maybe button.” She also linked Mullen to President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Democrat from California, as she has done repeatedly during the campaign.
EVASIVE AT TIMES
They were both evasive at times.
Mullen was asked if he would have returned to northern Indiana if not for his U.S. House bid. He grew up in South Bend, left when he enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy in 1996 and returned last year, after announcing he’d vie for the 2nd District post.
He said he was “so pleased” to be raising his young daughters here. But otherwise, he used the opportunity to defend his joint ownership, with wife Suzanne, of three homes in Washington, D.C. as a business venture.
Walorski has said the three homes, among other things, show that Mullen is a “D.C. insider.”
Another moment of vagueness came when the candidates were asked, bluntly, if they’d consider raising the retirement age as a means of keeping the Social Security system solvent.
Walorski answered, saying injecting new revenue into the system via job creation would help. Mullen said he’d put “anything and everything” on the table for discussion.
Taxes came up when Walorski was asked if she’d back a national sales tax, or consumption tax. During the 2010 campaign, she expressed general support for the notion, but on Tuesday she said she would not vote for a tax hike as U.S. representative.
“I think we have to cut spending before anything else is ever considered in this country,” she said.
When it was his turn, Mullen brought up her 2010 comments on the matter, accusing her of dodging the question. “You’re on both sides of the issue on many different things right now,” Mullen said.
Thursday’s encounter was the fourth debate in the race, sponsored by WSBT Radio and held in WSBT studios in Mishawaka. Mullen has taken part in all four debates, while Thursday’s was Walorski’s second. She declined invitations to two other debates, which Mullen made note of, indirectly, in his opening comments.
“This is my fourth debate,” he said, addressing Walorski. “I’m glad you joined us tonight.”
Joe Ruiz, a Libertarian, is also running and he has taken part in three of the debates. But he was not invited to the WSBT encounter.