Thursday, August 16, 2018

Indiana U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

82 Days Until Election Day

Indiana U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

It is said to be harder to poll in Indiana than any other state, as a state law prevents "robocalls" and thus it might be tougher to truly gage what is going on in the Hoosier State and if Republicans can make a pickup. There is no reason to believe the contest should be anything but close, but Indiana has been moving more Republican in recent years, as demonstrated by the results in 2016. Donald Trump may be a draw to bring a lot of Democrats to the polls, but in a state like Indiana, an energized Republican base, in a nationalized election could cut the other way and help the GOP.

First term Democrat Joe Donnelly is somewhat of a "fluke Senator", after his surprising but luckly 2012 victory. A socially moderate politician, from a working-class Catholic background, he had some setbacks in his early years of trying to win office. His first attempt to fun for federal office was a losing Congressional campaign in 2004. A favorable midterm in 2006 though saw him defeat an incumbent Republican to get elected to Congress and he served three terms. In 2012, redistricting made it appear likely that Donnelly would face an uphill reelection battle. He seemed willing to settle to add a U.S. Senate nomination to his resume, as the party's candidate against longtime incumbent Richard Lugar. Nobody expected Lugar could lose to a Democrat, but as time passed, the chances increased that he would face a serious Republican primary challenge. Democrats got a huge break when Lugar was defeated in the GOP primary by conservative State Treasurer Richard Mourdock .The chance for Donnelly to win a Senate seat suddenly increased but the demographics of the state still favored the Republican.

That changed even more suddenly when in an October debate, Mourdock made comments to bolster his Pro-Life without an exception for rape position by saying that a pregnancy from a rape was something that "God intended." Donnelly was nominally Pro-Life on the abortion issue but stood to benefit from what many thought was a quite sensitive comment from his opponent. On Election Day, Donnelly won 50-44, with the rest going to a Libertarian. If not for the rape comments, Donnelly would almost certainly not have won the Senate seat.

During his time in the Senate, Donnelly has had to walk a thin line between supporting his party and advocating for his state, and at times those things have been in contrast. He has not been much of a partisan fighter rhetorically, but did cast unpopular votes such as one for Obamacare and against Republican attempts during the last two Administrations to repeal it. He was one of just three Democrats to vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and is currently being watched because a vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination will come shortly before the voters in his state pass judgment. Most expect, that Donnelly will again be among the few Democrats to vote Aye, ensuring confirmation for Donald Trump's choice, but that could greatly anger liberals in his home state.

Sensing vulnerability, Republicans looked ahead for quite some time to 2016 in an attempt to win the seat back. For a while, it looked like the GOP primary would come down to two Congressmen, who have known each other since they attended school together at relatively small Wabash College. Todd Rokita had won statewide office and served as Secretary of State before going to Congress after the 2010 election. He faced some stories though about how he was a bit of a political diva who demanded strict adherence to rules set for the staffers that were assigned to drive him. Luke Messer was elected to Congress, two years later in 2012, and did more to get along with the GOP leadership team than Rokita had and after his second term, joined their ranks. He was seen as the more electable of the two candidates against Donnelly.

A third entrant would come along though that shook up the primary race. Mike Braun was a wealthy  businessman who got elected to the Indiana House, but resigned his seat to run for the U.S. Senate. He pointed to his outsider credentials and business experience and claimed that both his opponents were politics as usual, even as they sparred amongst each other. He took to using cardboard cutouts of Rokita and Messer to show how similar they were and how he represented something different. Interestingly enough, Braun had a brother run in the Republican primary for an open Congressional seat. The other Braun lost and it is said that two brothers are not particularly close.

All candidates in the race ran on a pro-Trump message in advance of the May primary, but none more so than Rokita, who wore a red MAGA hat on the trail and in his ads and approached hero-worship of Trump. Messer was attacked by Rokita as having been a "Never Trumper" during the 2016, but Messer insisted he supported the President's agenda and suggested he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts with North Korea. These events took place before Donald Trump began endorsing primary candidates on Twitter for the most part.

As the primary approached, it looked like Braun, who seemed to avoid wearing suits, had momentum over the two bickering Congressmen. His politically unpolished style and business background seemed to appeal to the voters who liked Trump, even more than the attempts of the others to suck up. Another thing that Braun had in common with Trump, was that Braun was a Democrat for most of his life, up until 2012. He said that in his area, he had to register as a Democrat in order to have a voice in primaries, but had always been a Republican at heart.The state is tough to poll and it appeared that there were large numbers of undecided voters, but the end result was a solid victory for Braun, beating both Congressmen with 41 percent of the vote. Rokita finished ahead of Messer in the Wabash primary by a close 30-29 margin. National Republicans appeared happy that Braun won, figuring that by not serving in Congress, there was less for the Democrats to attack. Trump warmly embraced Braun politically soon after the primary at an Indiana rally.

The small amount of polling this spring and summer showed Braun leading Donnelly by a statistically insignificant margin. A poll recently released by the Republican Trafalgar Group shows Donnelly ahead of his challenger 51-39, but even many Democrats are skeptical of the survey and the results. The poll went on to test how the race would change depending how Donnelly voted on the Kavanaugh confirmation and the Democrat lost significant ground, either way. That cannot be heartening for the incumbent.

My sense is that this race is close and while the national environment would favor Democrats, it may be a different story in the Vice President's home state. Donnelly might be about as strong of a Democrat as his party could hope for in Indiana, but unlike some other incumbents from his party in red states, does not have as long of a track record of electoral success or in building his own brand. The fact is that he got elected to the Senate because of primary surprise in the other party and then a huge political gaffe late in the game by his opponent. Even the once immensely popular Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh saw how hard it was to run for the Senate in the state in 2016. He just about lost by double digits.

Donnelly will be competitive for his party and may very well win at the end, but Braun looks like a solid Republican candidate who will not be committing self-induced errors. Trump is probably political poison in many states this midterm, but national Democrats are not well-liked among Hoosiers. This is a great example of how thankful Republicans should be about this cycle's Senate map.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
5 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Tossup), 
2 R (2 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
28 D (23 holdovers, 3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Tossup)
44 R (42 holdovers, 2 Tossup)


At 1:11 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Bold Prediction: GOP PICK-UP.


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