Can the GOP Gain Seats in States Trump Won? Prelimary Analysis of Joe Donnelly By Garrett Russitano
This series examines 10 Democratic Senators who are up for election in states Donald Trump won. Thus far, we’ve analyzed Senators Jon Tester (MT), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Bill Nelson (FL) Claire McCaskill (MO), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Casey (PA), and Sherrod Brown (OH). This piece examines Joe Donnelly of Indiana, a state that Donald Trump won by nearly 20 percent.
Senator Donnelly, a small business owner and attorney, was elected to the Mishawaka School Board in 1997, the House of Representatives (IN-2) in 2006, and the U.S. Senate in 2012. Donnelly currently serves on three committees: 1) Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; 2) Armed Services; and 3) Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. His voting record reflects a centrist that is more conservative than Democrats at large.
Donnelly faces reelection in a state that has changed dramatically since 2012. That year Republican incumbent Richard Lugar lost in the primary to Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mourdock later stumbled in the general campaign, notably stating pregnancies resulting from rape are “something God intended.” Donnelly won by 6 points.
The state is evenly split in terms of approving and disapproving of Donald Trump. Senator Donnelly is more popular than the president. 55 percent of Republicans approve of him approve of him. Donnelly frequently bucks his own party and his votes align with President Trump, in particular, nearly half of the time. Donnelly did oppose several of Trump’s cabinet nominees, including Tom Price, Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, and Betsy Devos.
Two Congressmen are among the seven candidates competing to be the Republican nominee. Representative Luke Messer (IN-6), who holds the House seat formerly occupied by Mike Pence, has secured endorsements from the key Republicans statewide, including the Vice-President’s brother, who is his finance chairman. Representative Todd Rokita (IN-4) is running on the coattails of President Trump in positioning himself as a political outsider taking on the political elite.
The two have already exchanged heated comments surrounding an Associated Press report that Messer’s wife earns $245,000 as a part time attorney for an Indianapolis suburb. Both recently co-sponsored a House bill that just passed criminalizing abortions after 20 weeks for patients and doctors.
The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate Indiana's Senate race as a toss-up. This will likely be a very competitive race, though incumbency and Donnelly’s popularity and policy approach give him a slight edge at this point.
Garrett Russitano is a research assistant for The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research.