INDIANAPOLIS — In the high-stakes race for the U.S. Senate, Indiana’s major-party candidates and their supporters have waged aggressive and costly campaigns to woo voters like Aaron Williford.
The 37-year-old “likely voter” hails from a traditionally Democratic area, Kokomo, which benefitted from the auto-industry bailout opposed by Republican candidate Richard Mourdock. But he’s also a fiscal conservative who worries that government-spending plans supported by Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly aren’t sustainable.
In mid-October, Williford met both candidates when he was picked by the Indiana Debate Commission to pose a question of his choice during the first televised Senate debate.
His question, about the proper role of the federal government, prompted one of the sharper verbal exchanges between Donnelly and Mourdock – with each accusing the other of distortions and lies.
Did Williford leave feeling better informed? “Not so much,” he said.
Instead, he left the debate seriously thinking about voting for the third candidate on the ballot: Libertarian Andy Horning.
The race for the U.S. Senate seat has been filled with the unexpected, beginning with the knock-out punch delivered by the tea party-backed Mourdock in the May primary to the six-term GOP incumbent, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar.
Another surprise came in late September as Republicans had virtually locked in the race for governor and clinched the state for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That’s when the independent Howey-DePauw poll found Donnelly and Mourdock in a statistical dead heat (with Donnelly up 2 points over Mourdock) but with 7 percent of the voters saying they’d pick Horning.
Other pollsters since then have put Mourdock ahead, but not by much, prompting speculation that Horning could be the “spoiler” candidate – a label he finds dismissive and offensive.
“It’s not their race,” Horning said of his major-party opponents. “It’s up to the voters to decide.”