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Which 'moderate' do you want in the US Senate?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 12:01 am

Two highly partisan politicians try to change their images.

The U.S. Senate contest between Hoosier Republican Richard Murdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly has become one of the hottest contests in the nation. It could even be the race that decides whether Democrats keep control of the Senate or Republicans take over. And that could decide how free the next president will be to pursue his agenda.

Everybody knows how high the stakes are, which is why the candidates, the parties and advocacy groups are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads for the next several weeks. Before this is over, we’re all going to be thoroughly sick of seeing Mourdock and Donnelly both. We’ll be familiar with them, but not especially knowledgeable. TV spots do not explore nuances, and they tend to be short on facts.

What is emerging in the ads – which are the candidates’ self-portraits — are two highly partisan politicians desperately trying to appear nonpartisan, a conservative and a liberal each playing at moderation.

Donnelly won the early battle hands down. To defeat incumbent Richard Lugar in the GOP primary, Mourdock painted him as too much a compromiser with Democrats. Mourdock ran far to the right of Lugar to win support from the party’s conservative base. Donnelly was able to capitalize on that “my way or the highway” image and come across as the “reasonable” pragmatist in the Lugar mold. A contest that Lugar always won overwhelmingly suddenly was neck-and-neck with Mourdock carrying the GOP banner.

Lately, Mourdock has tried to back off from his hard-line posture, and he has successfully reminded voters in his ads that Donnelly has served as a Democrat in the House, and that he voted for many of the president’s expensive, big-government initiatives, such as Obamacare and the stimulus program. Sure, he says now he would work across the aisle in order to cut back on government, but look at his record.

If you want to play this game of pretend bipartisan cooperation, go ahead, but realize what you will be getting: a liberal in moderate’s clothing or a conservative in moderate’s clothing. One candidate will support the direction President Obama has taken us in, and one will not. One would be a strong ally of a President Romney, and one would not.

Realize that when you go into the polling booth, you are not just voting for one man to occupy one office. The country has a choice of two paths to travel on starting next year, and the outcome of this race could well be a large part of determining which path we choose.