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Indiana Senate candidates debate health care, Kavanaugh vote in first debate


Libertarian Lucy Brenton, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican former state Rep. Mike Braun, from left, participate in a U.S. Senate Debate on Oct. 8 in Westville, Ind. Darron Cummings

The three Senate candidates duking it out on the debate stage Monday evening touted their voting records, or lack thereof, but one issue they circled back to was health care.

Libertarian candidate Lucy Brenton, Republican former state Rep. Mike Braun and the incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly debated issues varying from gun control to abortion rights.

The Indiana Debate Commission event is one of two this month organized by the nonpartisan organization. Monday night’s debate in Westville, Indiana, was moderated by IU Media School senior lecturer Anne Ryder.

Donnelly used much of his speaking time to highlight his support for pre-existing condition coverage, tout his moderate voting record and criticize the health insurance provided by Braun’s company — exposed as being costly for workers in a report from Politico last week. 

Braun accused Donnelly of having a campaign run by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, while repeatedly bringing up his outsiderness as a reason why voters should put him in office.

“I was the deciding vote that saved coverage for preexisting conditions,” Donnelly said.

Brenton repeatedly questioned the role of government on most issues, though neither major party candidate payed the Libertarian much attention when rebutting each other. 

Braun questioned Donnelly’s recent vote against confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, arguing he made the wrong decision. Brenton said she would’ve been a “no” vote, not because of the allegations leveled against him in recent weeks, but because of Kavanaugh’s support for measures such as the Patriot Act. 

“Just because we are women doesn’t mean we are telling the truth,” Brenton said. 

Donnelly said he voted against Kavanaugh due to concerns about his impartiality and temperament, noting that he supported Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. 

Another issue the candidates discussed was increasing higher education attainment amongst Americans.

Brenton, as expected, said the government should not be the solution to problems like student debt. Braun sought to compare himself to Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, a former Republican governor who has overseen the seventh straight year of tuition freezes at the school.

Donnelly said one of his priorities was preserving Federal Pell Grants. He also mentioned an initiative championed by IU, which administrators have said led to a decrease in student borrowing.

“IU, a great, great school in our state, they have a policy,” Donnelly said. “They send you a letter at the beginning of your semester, and it tells you exactly how much you have borrowed, and how much you will borrow.”

The letter is sent annually, according to IU.

Donnelly used many of his speaking opportunities to turn the question on Braun and even interjected a couple of times when Braun questioned his record.

After the debate, both major party campaigns claimed victory. The statement from Donnelly's campaign highlighted the health care costs incurred by Braun's employees, which Donnelly had mentioned earlier in the debate.

“Joe Donnelly won tonight’s debate by proving that he has kept his promises to Indiana over the past six years, working hard, reaching across the aisle, and delivering a clear track record of bipartisan results for Hoosiers – not any politician or political party,” said Peter Hanscom, Donnelly for Indiana Campaign manager, in a statement. 

Candidates in a debate often claim victory, regardless of performance or analysis. 

“This November, Hoosiers have a clear choice between a liberal career politician in Senator Donnelly and Mike Braun who has real solutions to move Indiana forward,” Braun spokesman Josh Kelley said in a statement.

The second and final Senate debate — which is already sold out but will be livestreamed and broadcasted — will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 in Indianapolis. The midterm elections are Nov. 6.

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