INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Thomas McDermott tried to spark his underdog challenge to Indiana Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young on Sunday by attacking his positions on issues spanning abortion, federal spending and marijuana legalization.
Young responded with criticism of President Joe Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress for sparking higher inflation and gasoline prices as the candidates faced each other during their only scheduled televised debate ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
McDermott, who is the mayor of Hammond, and other Democrats have campaigned heavily on protection of abortion rights in the wake of Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature voting over the summer to make it the first state to enact an abortion ban after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated federal abortion protections by overturning Roe v. Wade in June.
McDermott has called for a federal law reinstating abortion rights and criticized Young for voting to confirm three conservative Supreme Court justices nominated by former President Donald Trump who helped form the court’s majority in the abortion ruling.
“He gerrymandered the Supreme Court so that Roe vs Wade was overturned,” McDermott said.
Young said he believed that state Legislatures should decide what abortion policies should be and that what he called a “conversation” in all 50 states should continue.
“I do accept exceptions and I’ll accept whatever the people of Indiana decide,” Young said.
The Indiana ban, which state courts have blocked following a lawsuit filed by abortion clinic operators included exceptions allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest, before 10 weeks post-fertilization; to protect the life and physical health of the mother; and if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly.
Libertarian candidate James Sceniak said “politicians should not act as physicians” and called, instead, for working to reduce the number of abortions not through bans but by looking for ways to help pregnant women and making contraception more easily available.
Young, who is s eeking a second six-year Senate term has followed a front-runner strategy of mostly ignoring McDermott, who has been Hammond’s mayor since 2004 but is little known outside northwestern Indiana. Sunday’s debate, which was organized by the nonprofit Indiana Debate Commission and broadcast on several TV stations around the state, will likely be their only face-to-face meeting.
Despite Democrats and Republicans fiercely fighting for control of the current 50-50 Senate, Indiana’s Senate race hasn’t seen the tens of millions in outside spending that it attracted four years ago when Republican Mike Braun defeated Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and in 2016 when Young won the Senate seat over former Democratic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh.
McDermott assailed Young for numerous votes to increase federal spending during his six years as a senator and previous six years in the U.S. House and then trying to blame the Biden administration for the worldwide problems with inflation.
“He wants us to believe that Joe Biden is responsible for 100% the nation’s problems right now and he shares responsibility for that,” McDermott said. “Senator Young’s been in office for 12 years and he needs to take responsibility for the spending that he’s created.”
Young countered that the economy was improving before Biden and congressional Democrats pushed through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan earlier this year.
“Unfortunately, the first thing they did in the office is rush through a stimulus bill,” Young said. “This is the last thing you want to do a stimulus bill which led to all manner of inflation.”
Young defended his push in the Senate for providing billions in federal money to encourage more semiconductor companies to build chip plants in the United States, saying it was needed in the face of an ambitious China.
McDermott, a lawyer and U.S. Navy veteran, also advocated for federal marijuana legalization as the drug remains illegal for all uses in Indiana.
McDermott called Indiana’s law an “ancient policy” retained by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders that threatens people who legally buy recreational marijuana in Michigan or Illinois with jail once they enter the state.
Young said marijuana legalization would “probably be a third-tier priority” for him, citing inflation, national security and crime among those needing more attention first, while saying he would work with states that enact their own marijuana laws.