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Democrat McDermott goes on the attack against Republican Young in U.S. Senate debate

The Indiana candidates for U.S. Senate stand in front of lecterns during a debate. From left to right, they are Republican Senator Todd Young, Libertarian James Sceniak and Democrat Tom McDermott. All three are White men wearing suits.
Darron Cummings
Democrat Tom McDermott, right, speaks as U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), left, and Libertarian James Sceniak listen during a debate on Oct. 16, 2022 in Indianapolis.

Democrat Tom McDermott went on the attack during Sunday’s debate between Indiana’s candidates for U.S. Senate.

The debate featured McDermott, Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Libertarian James Sceniak.

McDermott wasted no time going after Young, using his opening statement on a repeated criticism of the Republican for confirming three of the Supreme Court justices who overturned abortion rights.

Young largely dismissed the abortion issue, saying it's an issue best left to the states and that he'll support whatever Hoosiers enact. And Sceniak said the way to reduce abortions was not by banning it but by enacting better economic supports and providing greater access to contraception and sex education.

The Republican regularly hit back against attacks against him by focusing on inflation.

“As Hoosiers watch from their living rooms this evening, we know that they are hurting," Young said. "They are hurting as a result of the multi-trillion-dollar, tax-and-spend policies of the Biden administration.”

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But McDermott noted that Young supported – and touts – one of those Biden spending bills, the CHIPS Act. He said Young is two-faced.

“When Sen. Young supports spending, that’s good inflation," McDermott said. "But when Sen. Young doesn’t support it, that’s bad inflation.”

Sceniak, the Libertarian, repeatedly tried to emphasize an alternative between the two major parties. But he had criticisms for Young, too.

“Like the incumbent said, spending is an issue," Sceniak. "But unlike the incumbent, I don’t just disagree with spending when it’s the other side.”

One of the few areas where the three candidates agreed was on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The three men emphasized the need to support Ukraine against the Russian aggression, though Sceniak urged a need for peace over conflict.

The three candidates did also agree that climate change is a threat, but there wasn't unanimity on solutions.

Sceniak urged a need for innovation in the private sector. McDermott said political leaders need to make investments in green energy. And Young while he supports "targeted" government spending on research, the bulk of the effort should come from the private sector.

"The way not to do this is applying just incredible strictures on our oil and gas and transitioning in the very short term from a fossil fuel-based economy into the green economy that increases the price of gas," Young said.

The Republican incumbent also seemed to side-step some of the issues raised during the debate.

The candidates were asked whether they support federal protections for same-sex marriage. Young called the issue a "distraction," since he said same-sex marriage is "settled law" at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But McDermott pointed out that abortions right were also supposed to be settled law.

"I think it's abysmal that you have a U.S. senator that can't say yes or no whether or not he supports same-sex marriages," McDermott said.

On cannabis legalization, Young again demurred, arguing it's largely a state issue, despite the fact that Indiana state leaders say they're waiting for federal action to decriminalize and reschedule the drug. The Republican also said it's a not a top tier issue for Hoosiers, calling it a "third tier priority."

Sceniak said he backs cannabis reform.

"More Americans right now, in the United States, can get cannabis legally than illegally," Sceniak said. "Similar to alcohol, prohibition never worked. Cannabis is the same thing."

McDermott, who used cannabis in one of his campaign ads this year, is staunchly in favor of decriminalization.

Sunday’s debate was the only one this cycle between the three candidates.

Contact reporter Brandon at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.