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NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WDRB) --- There's a big controversy surrounding next week's debate in New Albany between the candidates for U.S. Senate in Indiana. The issue is not about who's on stage, but who's in the audience.
It's a hotly-contested campaign between Democrat Joe Donnelly, Republican Richard Mourdock, and Libertarian Andrew Horning.
Their last debate is next Tuesday at IU Southeast. But thanks to the United Auto Workers, very few southern Indiana voters will be in the seats.
Cheryl Matthews has been involved in politics in Floyd Co. for years. She is vice-chair of the Republican Party, and her husband is running for office. But when they tried to get tickets to next week's senate debate at IU Southeast, they got bad news. "My husband went to pick up tickets up the morning they opened it up, and by the time he got there, they were out," said Matthews.
That's because shortly after tickets became available on Tuesday, large groups of UAW members, primarily from the Chrysler plant in Kokomo, showed up at the box office and claimed 300 of the 500 seats.
The UAW is backing Democrat Joe Donnelly because Republican Richard Mourdock opposed the auto bailout.
"I think that's unfair to the other two candidates. In fact, I think it's unfair to all of them. I wouldn't appreciate packing an audience with Republicans for the Democrat candidate or for the Libertarian. I just don't think it's the right thing to do," said Matthews.
The rules limit tickets to two per person. But the UAW was able to get around that by orchestrating the ticket run.
The Debate Commission president says, at the very least, the UAW did violate the spirit of the debate rules. "The problem that we had is, even though that they can make the argument that they followed the letter of the rule, we certainly look at it as an orchestrated attempt to take over the majority of the house," said Indiana Debate Commission President Max Jones.
The debate commission considered closing the event to the public or even canceling, but decided to go ahead as normal.
The UAW has promised there will be no partisan displays or outbursts, and security will be beefed up.
Meantime, the Republicans are planning a rally outside the Ogle Center. "Who knows, maybe it will dampen the enthusiasm of some of the people who got tickets," said Matthews.
The UAW did not respond to a request for an interview.
The Indiana Debate Commission says IU Southeast was not at fault. This has never happened before. The commission president says they'll take steps to make sure it never happens again.