That was the only time the residency issue came up in the debate, but Lugar emphasized his connections with and understanding of the state from the debate's opening moments. When Mourdock criticized ethanol mandates following in response to the first question, Lugar stressed the importance of the state's ethanol industry.
"It's a Hoosier product with Hoosiers producing it on farms here that have meant higher values for corn and certainly higher land values here in this state" Lugar said.
Lugar also went out of his way to praise his former aide, popular Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels
While Mourdock jabbed Lugar over his residency in the closing moments, he largely passed up opportunities to take on the senator on policy issues. In a recent TV ad
, Mourdock accused Lugar of supporting gas tax hikes. When gas prices came up in the debate, Mourdock didn't repeat the accusation. Mourdock's campaign has also accused Lugar of supporting an individual mandate in the past. But when Lugar -- on several occasions -- called for the repeal of President Obama's health care law, Mourdock didn't repeat the attack.
Lugar also benefited from a great deal of foreign policy discussion. The middle of the debate featured three consecutive questions on international affairs. Lugar, the leading Republican on the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, seemed much more comfortable opining on foreign policy than his opponent. In fact, after one Lugar answer, Mourdock declined the opportunity to offer a rebuttal.
Both candidates called for entitlement reform and offered praise for Rep. Paul Ryan
's budget. Lugar used his support of the Ryan plan as a subtle rebuttal of lingering charges from the right that he is a moderate Republican eager to forge bipartisan relationships.
"I voted for the Ryan plan, one of 40 Republicans who did so. Seven did not," Lugar said. "All the Democrats voted against it."
Mourdock avoided any potentially damaging gaffes and did not appear out of place sharing the stage with his more experienced opponent. That's good news for the challenger, with a recent poll showing a large swath of primary voters critical of Lugar, but not yet embracing Mourdock. This debate, at the least, showed he could ably debate policy mano-a-mano against one of the Senate's most seasoned legislators.