Candidates running for one of Indiana's seats in the U.S. Senate are leaning toward the finish line as they near Election Day.
The race between Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock could very well end up deciding which party controls the Senate during the next two years. Those high stakes and several polls showing the men tied have led outside groups to spend millions of dollars on advertisements to affect the outcome.
Donnelly, a third-term congressman from Granger, and Mourdock, the state's treasurer, also present clearly different choices for voters. Both men seem to see the other as an example of what's wrong with Washington.
"He says one thing here and goes back and votes differently," Mourdock said of Donnelly during a campaign stop Thursday morning at an Elkhart diner.
Mourdock highlighted Donnelly's votes for "failed stimulus" spending, auto and bank bailouts, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care plan, which includes a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. He also criticized the congressman for not voting to eliminate the inheritance tax after saying he wanted to do away with it.
"It is very much a symptom of say whatever it takes to get elected," Mourdock said. "I think people have come to see that I'll take a position, and I'll argue a position and stay with that position."
Donnelly considers partisan gridlock to be one of the main problems in Congress, and he's said Mourdock would make it worse.
"With him, everything is politics," Donnelly said before speaking Thursday at a South Bend retirement home.
"To me, I don't care if you're a Democrat, I don't care if you're a Republican," he said. "I want to work with anybody who wants to make our country stronger, and that's my focus every day."
Donnelly sided with fellow Democrats on the issues Mourdock listed but said he still has one of the most conservative voting records of any congressman in his party. He's also explained that he'll continue working to repeal the medical-device tax and wants to eliminate the inheritance tax after the nation's finances improve.
Donnelly has opposed Democrats on other issues, including climate change, energy, gun control and immigration. In June, he was one of 17 Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
Polling data going back to before the May primary have shown Donnelly and Mourdock to be virtually tied, and the campaigns and other organizations have spent a state-record $25 million on the race so far.
Two prominent newsletters, The Cook Political Report and The Rothenberg Political Report, rate the race a tossup.
The University of Virginia Center for Politics shifted it to the "leans Democratic" category Thursday due to publicity surrounding Mourdock's explanation of why he believes abortions should be permitted only when the mother's life is at stake. "I struggled with it myself for a long time," he said in the Oct. 23 debate in New Albany, "but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock later clarified that he was saying he believes life begins at conception, but he doesn't believe God intends for women to be raped. He said Thursday that the conversations he hears throughout Indiana have turned back to jobs and the economy.
"I'm delighted people are focused back on the real issues over what was a momentary ... moment," he said. "There's no better way to say it -- just one of those moments on the campaign trail."
Staff writer Kevin Allen: