WABASH -- The three candidates running for north-central Indiana's congressional seat were able to agree on one point early in their debate Thursday evening.
Democrat Brendan Mullen, Republican Jackie Walorski and Libertarian Joe Ruiz all said in their opening statements that Washington is broken, and each candidate said that he or she is a person who can help fix it.
"I'm running for U.S. Congress because Washington is broken. It's not working for our families, it's not working for our friends, it's not working for our communities," said Mullen, an Iraq War veteran and businessman who lives in Granger.
"I'm running because Hoosiers know that Washington is broken," Walorski, a former state representative from Jimtown, said next.
"We've tried to spend our way out of an economic disaster. We have $16 trillion of debt."
Ruiz said that if Washington is broken, Democrats and Republicans are to blame. "This is the result we've got from our two-party system," said Ruiz, a Mishawaka man who works at the Family and Children's Center.
An audience of about 100 people listened politely for 45 minutes as Mullen, Walorski and Ruiz sat side by side at a folding table in the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center and responded to questions read by a moderator. The event, sponsored by the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce, is the only public debate in this year's 2nd District race where all three candidates were invited and agreed to attend.
Mullen and Ruiz are scheduled to debate at 6 p.m. Sunday on WNIT Television and 6:30 p.m. Monday at Rochester Community High School.
Walorski declined to participate in the WNIT and Rochester debates, but she and Mullen will debate each other at 7 p.m. Tuesday in an event scheduled to air on SBT2-TV and WSBT Radio as well as streamed online at wsbt.com. Ruiz was not invited to the WSBT debate.
Thursday night consisted mostly of Mullen and Walorski trying to define each other and Ruiz saying the two major-party candidates were demonstrating why members of Congress can't work together.
Mullen, citing a Walorski radio interview from 2010, charged that she has "championed" the concept of privatizing Social Security. "Under no circumstances will I ever risk your retirement in the New York Stock Exchange or on Wall Street," he said.
Walorski responded, "I will not cut Social Security or Medicare."
Walorski said she wants to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and emphasized that Mullen wants to keep it in place. "I'd like to just remind you of this: There's gonna be one vote on the House floor to repeal Obamacare, and I am going to vote to repeal Obamacare in its entirety," she said. "My opponent's going to vote to keep Obamacare."
Mullen said he's concerned about the health care law's impact on businesses, but the law also has good points and has enabled millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions to obtain insurance.
"There's some extraordinary good; there's some extraordinary bad," he said. "We need to be focused on removing the bad and keeping the good."
Both Mullen and Walorski seemed to agree that bipartisanship is needed to solve the nation's biggest problems in health care, entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, and the national debt. They disagreed, however, on who would be able to work across the aisle on those issues.
Mullen said Walorski voted in line with Republican leadership on 93 percent of votes during the six years she was in the Indiana House of Representatives. "She said that she's the best bill-killer the state of Indiana's ever seen," he said. "She also bragged that she's fighting an ideological war. Ladies and gentlemen, I've fought a war, I've tasted it -- it smells bad and it's not fun. ... If we continue to hire tea-party Republicans and Nancy Pelosi Democrats, we will never be able to touch each other's fingers and move our country forward."
Walorski said she had a 75 percent bipartisan voting record as a state representative, and she worked with members of both parties to cut Indiana's debt and help the RV industry recover in Elkhart County.
She also noted, "Former Speaker Pelosi is a friend of Brendan Mullen's and put $175,000 into his campaign last week to run negative ads. ... We have a choice to make: We either stand on the side of President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Brendan Mullen or we decide as Hoosiers that if we want to make a change at the national level we start right here."
Ruiz used the exchanges between Mullen and Walorski to make his point.
"What I want from you is a chance," he told the audience, "because what you've seen tonight -- and what you've seen if you've watched any of the other debates in any of the other races -- is people talking about bipartisanship and fighting all along. It's an illustration of how things are really going to be when either of those people is elected."
Staff writer Kevin Allen: