I don’t live in Jackie Walorski’s district, but part of it (Indiana’s 2nd) runs through my town of Kokomo, Indiana. I have gotten to know Jackie and have spent the bulk of my local activism efforst on her race over the last few months. This is my (24-hour delayed) write-up on the first debate of the season, between Jackie and her opponent, incumbent Congressman Joe Donnelly.
Go to www.standwithJackie.com to find out more about who Jackie is and why her supporters back her so loyally.
Last night, on Monday, Oct. 25, I was in the audience to root for Jackie Walorski in the first debate of this race. Donnelly’s negotiators insisted that this debate be held in the tiny town of Rochester (population 6,431), rather than South Bend Kokomo (45,000), although parts of Kokomo fall into the 2nd District, which Donnelly represents. I found out, upon arrival at the Rochester High School campus, that I was so far from the beaten path, I wasn’t even under the Verizon 3G umbrella on my Droid phone! (Look at the Verizon coverage map; that’s saying something.)
Donnelly had bussed in union members from all across the district to fill the hall. All of them were permitted to wear t-shirts boldly emblazoned with their pertinent logo. Meanwhile, we Walorski supporters were not allowed, of course, to sport anything that identified the team we were there to root for. (In fairness, there was no Donnelly campaign gear present either. However, we had no equivalent to union logos with which to be identified.)
The debate began a few minutes late. Jackie and the Libertarian candidate, Mark Vogel walked in first, quite unobtrusively, with no introductions; in fact, they were both halfway down the aisle before we realized Jackie had entered the building and could welcome her with an ovation. Donnelly walked in a minute later, strolling briskly down the aisle, to uproarious applause from his union backers.
There were consistent themes throughout the evening from both candidates. Joe Donnelly may be the most gingerly cautious Democrat politician I have ever encountered anywhere. He never mentioned his party affiliation once, nor did he cite the President or Speaker whose agendas he has heavily supported. When stimulus spending or debt was mentioned (and they were, repeatedly), Donnelly played to the union crowd who came to support him with references to the shifts that are currently running at the Kokomo Chrysler plants, saying they would not have been, were it not for government assistance.
Jackie Walorski hit the ground running and tied Donnelly on multiple occasions over the ensuing 90 minutes to both President Obama and the $5 trillion addition to the national debt since Nancy Pelosi assumed power. She also accused Donnelly of chameleon tendencies, of adopting rhetoric that pleased the voters at home, then executing an about-face when confronted by his DC bosses. A representative question in this vein came in her opening statement: “Which candidate standing before you tonight will be the same candidate in a town hall here in Indiana and in the halls of Capitol Hill?”
There were questions from a panel composed of one local newspaper journalist, Bill Wilson of the Rochester Sentinel and questions from 3 student panelists. Wilson’s anti-Walorski slant is apparently well known. He covered well, for the most part, but his bias came through in a couple of questions, especially his first one, directed to Jackie Walorski: “Ms. Walorski, is global warming a real threat to our way of life? If so, what should be done about it? If not, where does all the concern come from?” (Jackie used the question as a springboard to denounce cap and trade.)
Wilson also asked Jackie if Social Security should be privatized, though, to his credit, this question was much more widely anticipated; I would have been shocked, had it not been asked. Jackie referred to Social Security as “a great program for seniors like my Mom who rely on it”, but not so great for 47-year-olds like me who could use the money for personal investment decisions. She pled for a “national discussion” on the issue, which so far, has not occurred. Donnelly hit back hard, accusing Jackie of not merely desiring a conversation, but wanting to privatize the system, then pointed to the 2008 stock market crash as proof positive of the tomfoolery of this plan, from his perspective. Donnelly referred to Social Security as a “guaranteed investment” for depositors. Jackie came back to the subject later on and pinned it back to the freedom that seniors should have to choose a system with a better return.
The atmosphere was rife with tension, which crackled multiple times throughout the debate. Jackie swung hard against Donnelly’s vote for Obamacare and the executive order that ostensibly prohibited federal funding of abortion. Donnelly insisted the order had been tried and tested. Walorski countered that the order “isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and can be overturned anytime by any President. This is one of the most pro-choice Presidents in history and we’ll take his word [on this issue]?”
I was surprised that Donnelly came out as hawkishly as he did on both the war in Iraq and the Afghanistan conflict. His replies and Walorski’s on this issue were virtually indistinguishable, in terms of perspective. The same applied to the question on federally funded stem cell research. There was no difference between Donnelly and Walorski here, either.
Walorski’s sharpest repartee came when the final question was posed by a student panelist about federal Pell Grants for university students. Donnelly got first bat at the question and accused Walorski of “saying yes to the iCaucus question about getting the federal government out of education.” In response, Walorski cited Donnelly’s ad against her on the subject as, according to Factcheck.org, “misleading” and “false” and urged Donnelly to “tell the truth on this, Joe.”
Jackie’s strongest moment of the evening, from my perspective, came in her closing statement. Hers was the final one and she utilized it to full advantage, stating that “There are two Joe Donnellys; one in Indiana and another in the halls of Congress.” She highlighted the egregious spending that Donnelly could have stood up and stopped; instead, “he quietly sat back and voted for it.” She sounded a note of tribute to previous generations, stating that “Hoosiers believe America is worth fighting for. They worry that my generation has failed to meet the bar set for us by our parents.” She concluded by promising consistency in South Bend, Elkhart or Washington, DC.
The nature of the physical gathering was such that I highly doubt anyone arrived or left without their mind made up. All told, however, it was a spirited evening and enough distinctions were clearly drawn that a TV and radio audience, which presumably would include some independents, would certainly have been granted some food for thought in the week remaining until Election Day.