5 takeaways from the Indiana Senate debate

The Indiana Senate race has grown increasingly contentious in recent weeks as Republican Rep. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTo encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Senate Republicans voice opposition to Biden on Iran Biden infrastructure proposal prioritizes funds for emerging technologies MORE has closed the gap in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate next year.

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In their first debate on Tuesday night, former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) and Young escalated their attacks as they sparred over ObamaCare, Social Security and which candidate should be labeled with the toxic term “Washington insider.”

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s debate:

 

Bayh seeks distance from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Republican legislators target private sector election grants How Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 MORE

Bayh is running to the right of the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. 

The former senator, who's running to get his old job back, is no favorite of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and he showed why on Tuesday night.

Bayh used a discussion on climate change to distance himself from Clinton's more progressive energy policies. 

“I think climate change is real ... the question is what should we do about it," Bayh began. But after running through a shopping list of renewables, he got more passionate as he distanced himself from Clinton’s proposals. 

"I don’t think we should have the cap and trade system, and I don’t agree with the Clean Power Plan," he said, referring to President Obama's signature climate rule. "That’s something I disagree with Mrs. Clinton on. I think those things would be harmful to Hoosier consumers."

Bayh also used more muscular language than Clinton ever has to paint himself as a pro-gun pragmatist. 

“I support your Second Amendment rights to bear arms," he said. 

Directly addressing Hoosiers, he added: "Unless you are a known terrorist, have been convicted in a crime of a violent felony, or have been adjudicated to be insane, you’ve got no trouble from me.”

Bayh also created some distance with Clinton over her support of an estate tax, saying he disagrees with the Democratic nominee's proposal to increase it.

 

Bayh running as a bipartisan dealmaker

Perhaps realizing that the American public is fed up with a do-nothing Congress, Bayh portrayed himself as a politician who worked productively with Republicans as a senator and as Indiana governor.

He played up his work in the Senate with Republican Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Democrats work to pick up GOP support on anti-Asian hate crimes bill Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan MORE (Maine) on a bill that would tackle ending Alzheimer’s disease. He name-dropped former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), noting that they worked together to help the auto industry, something he has touted in campaign ads.

Bayh also mentioned that he agreed with Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePelosi says she would have put up a fight against Capitol mob: 'I'm a street fighter' Trump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Biden's policies are playing into Trump's hands MORE, now the GOP vice presidential nominee, on a health policy provision as he sought to deflect criticism from Young about his support for ObamaCare.

Bayh’s strategy could help in a state that typically lands in the Republican column and could resonate with voters who remain frustrated with congressional gridlock. 

 

Washington, D.C., is on the ballot

Young's biggest hit on Bayh is that the former senator, who subsequently worked for a law and lobbying firm, is a D.C. insider. 

Any time Bayh riffed on an issue Tuesday night, Young seized the opportunity to mock his rival's polished speech. 

“These are the words of a D.C. politician, a career politician," Young said at one point. "Spewing out talking points with very little veracity."

Young sought to create distance between himself and Washington, despite being a current House member, playing up his background as a Marine. When asked about bipartisanship, he emphasized his lack of time spent as a politician and then talked about work he did to undermine Obamacare. 

“I have real world experience here," Young said during the discussion of national security. "I haven’t just sat in committee hearings and ... monitored the situation. I actually understand what a Marine on the ground goes through.”

 

Republicans still think ObamaCare is a potent weapon

With health insurance costs soaring under ObamaCare, Republicans are finding the unpopular healthcare law still gets traction with voters.  

On Tuesday night, Young repeatedly used Obamacare to bludgeon Bayh, blaming the former senator's vote for the passage of the law. 

“It was imposed by Evan Bayh, despite the wishes of Hoosiers," Young said. "It was imposed during the worst possible moment during our economy. It’s no wonder we aren’t growing more jobs in this country.”

Supporting Young's ObamaCare attack strategy is the powerful conservative donor network helmed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Their grassroots organization, Americans For Prosperity, just launched a new seven-figure round of digital ads hitting Democratic Senate candidates, including Bayh, for voting for ObamaCare.

 

Young is borrowing at least one page from the Trump playbook

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to move ahead with billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump Fox News hires high-profile defense team in Dominion defamation lawsuit Associate indicted in Gaetz scandal cooperating with DOJ: report MORE didn’t once come up during the debate, but the GOP presidential nominee’s strategy of describing Clinton was evident in Young’s portrayal of Bayh.

Young emphasized his own youth and lack of political experience and made the case — as Trump does with Clinton — that Bayh already had a chance to change the direction of the country.

“He spent 30 years in public life," Young said of Bayh. "He’s had his opportunity to make Social Security sustainable for my generation.

"He hasn’t done anything," he added. "He’s all talk. He spent our money.”

When the topic shifted to national security, Young used it as an opportunity to continue to condemn his opponent as an all-talk, no-action political veteran.

“Evan Bayh sat on the Senate Armed Services Committee," Young said, "but he skipped multiple hearings and during his last year in office. He spent 60 days shopping for a job as a lobbyist instead of being vigilant on this war on terror.”