Senate Debate Likely Not Relevant
You would think that in a Senate race that polls have virtually in a tie, that the first Senate debate between Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock would be very important. However, most likely it will be almost irrelevant.
Donnelly ran a nearly perfect summer campaign, targeting Lugar Republican swing voters with a friendly, folksy approach while painting Richard Mourdock as an extremist - "my road or the highway" guy. Mourdock has countered first with a deceivingly clever highway ad showing the highway/road splitting with Donnelly going left and Mourdock to the conservative direction. Then the synchronized swimming ad is pounding in the Obama-Donnelly tie. Meanwhile, the Democrats have resorted to the typical nightmarish anti-Mourdock stuff that most people now come to ignore which has overwhelmed Donnelly's original attempts to paint himself as a moderate.
In a Republican state in a Republican year (remember, Donnelly was one of 3 out of 9 Democrat congressmen in Indiana and chose not to run for re-election in his own district figuring it would be difficult to defeat Jackie Walorski), it is unlikely that he can pull an upset. It may not even be especially close if the trend line continues. Lugar Republicans are unlikely to vote to give Obama control of the Senate. They know the risk.
The debate bottom line is this: I know both men pretty well. Joe is an engaging debater who will win the debate. But Mourdock has endured the biggest battering of negative ads (primary and general election) in the state's history. Yet he's still tied. He's won statewide election twice. He defeated - overwhelmed even - the most respected and long-serving United States Senator in Indiana history. While he didn't defeat Richard Lugar in the debate, he hold his own.
In this Senate debate, all Mourdock needs to do is smile some, make his points, talk about Joe Donnelly voting for ObamaCare and with the President, point out control of the Senate, and parry a few attacks (don't try to win the Chrysler debate or over-defend his actions, just get past it). Actually countering the Chrysler debate with the fact that Donnelly's vote on health care would sink the orthopedics industry is more than enough.
So unless Mourdock blows himself up, his ads will continue to build a small but building lead. Then, as Donnelly has to gamble to win, the margin is likely to grow.
This is a case of just surviving a debate. Victory is not important.