Demo­cratic mo­men­tum stalls in In­di­ana Se­nate race

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Brian Slodysko As­so­ci­ated Press

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS — On a night Democrats na­tion­wide rode a blue wave of op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Donald Trump to pick up gov­er­nor­ships and take con­trol of the House, their mo­men­tum stalled in the red state of In­di­ana.

In­stead, Repub­li­can Mike Braun’s vic­tory over the lone re­main­ing Demo­crat elected statewide helped turn In­di­ana an even darker shade of crim­son.

The mul­ti­mil­lion­aire auto parts mag­nate ousted Sen. Joe Don­nelly, of­fer­ing a strong in­di­ca­tor of where the state and its mid­dle-ofthe-road rep­u­ta­tion could be headed po­lit­i­cally.

But it wasn’t just Don­nelly’s de­feat. Democrats also got trounced in two con­gres­sional races — one in north­ern In­di­ana, the other in the south­ern part of the state — where they held out hope for long­shot wins.

Braun told sup­port­ers dur­ing a vic­tory speech that his elec­tion shows vot­ers are sick of ca­reer politi­cians in both par­ties.

“The theme of my cam­paign is that we need to take to Wash­ing­ton what works in the real world,” he said.

The out­come is per­haps lit­tle sur­prise in an era where party af­fil­i­a­tion is in­creas­ingly de­ter­mined by fac­tors like race, eth­nic­ity, age and an ur­ban vs. ru­ral di­vide.

In­di­ana is an agrar­ian and con­ser­va­tive state. But it wasn’t long ago that vot­ers here reg­u­larly elected con­ser­va­tive Democrats to the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and Congress in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers.

Just look at Braun’s own po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

Al­though he in­sists that he’s a life­long Repub­li­can, Braun long voted in Demo­cratic pri­maries be­fore switch­ing over to the GOP sev­eral years ago be­fore he was elected to his first of two leg­isla­tive terms in the In­di­ana House.

For years, Don­nelly has tried to walk a del­i­cate line. Af­ter Trump won the state by 19 points, Don­nelly spoke kindly of him, cel­e­brated ar­eas where they agreed but promised that he wouldn’t be a rub­ber stamp. Rarely did he men­tion that he’s a Demo­crat.

“If you want some­one to be with a po­lit­i­cal party 100 per­cent of the time, I’m not that guy,” Don­nelly said in his fi­nal ad of the cam­paign. “I’m not about party.”

But he’s also had a tar­get on his back ever since he un­ex­pect­edly won in 2012 af­ter his op­po­nent Richard Mour­dock made in­cen­di­ary com­ments about abor­tion and rape.

And as the race tightened, Don­nelly adopted some of Trump’s rhetoric, an­ger­ing mem­bers of his own party by at­tack­ing so­cial­ists and the “rad­i­cal left,” while call­ing for a bor­der wall with Mex­ico.

That ap­pears to have hurt him in Demo­cratic strongholds such as Mar­ion County, where an “un­mo­ti­vated” elec­torate did not turn out at lev­els he needed, said Andy Downs, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Pur­due Univer­sity Fort Wayne.

“A lot of Demo­cratic vot­ers in In­di­ana un­der­stand mod­er­ates, un­der­stand gov­ern­ing from the mid­dle,” Downs said. “But when you pretty much hug Trump, you’ve prob­a­bly gone a lit­tle too far.”

Repub­li­cans say the first­term se­na­tor talked a good game with his pro-Trump mes­sage. But they ar­gued he was against the presi- dent when it counted, not­ing he op­posed the GOP-led tax cut, leg­is­la­tion to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act and the c o n f i r ma t i o n of Supreme Court Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh.

In a midterm elec­tion cy­cle that largely turned on whether can­di­dates were for or against Trump, Don­nelly’s balanc­ing act just didn’t work.

Mark Allan, 50, is a truck driver from In­di­anapo­lis who voted for Braun. He likes the way Trump is lead­ing the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to im­mi­gra­tion and for­eign pol­icy, and wanted to cast a bal­lot for some­one who will vote for the pres­i­dent’s pri­or­i­ties.

“I don’t think there’s any­thing wrong with Don­nelly, but he’s been on both sides of the fence,” Allan said. “We need to keep the Se­nate Repub­li­can to sup­port the agenda of Donald Trump.”

Trump, too, was heav­ily in­vested in the race in Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s home state. He cam­paigned ag­gres­sively against Don­nelly, who he called “Sleepin’ Joe.”

In his con­ces­sion state­ment, Don­nelly said he was hon­ored to serve the state.

“It has been one of the great­est honors of my life to rep­re­sent In­di­ana in the Se­nate,” Don­nelly said. “I wish Mike the best, and I hope he makes every sin­gle Hoosier proud as our se­na­tor.”

Braun’s vic­tory is one few would have pre­dicted last year when the two-term state law­maker an­nounced he would run in the GOP p r i ma r y against two con­gress­men.

By lever­ag­ing his own for­tune and loan­ing his cam­paign more than $10 mil­lion, he was able to del­uge his Repub­li­can ri­vals un­der a wave of TV ad­ver­tise­ments.

Braun, who is worth some­where be­tween $37 mil­lion and $95 mil­lion, says Trump’s suc­cess in­spired him to run. On Tues­day he won af­ter adopt­ing a sim­i­lar out­sider busi­ness­man tem­plate.

“He didn’t need this. I didn’t need it ei­ther, by the way,” Trump said at a rally for Braun near In­di­anapo­lis last week. “But we’re hav­ing fun. You know why? We’re win­ning.”

JIM YOUNG/GETTY PHO­TOS

Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Mike Braun and his wife, Mau­reen, ar­rive at an elec­tion night rally Tues­day in In­di­anapo­lis. Braun de­feated in­cum­bent Demo­cratic Sen. Joe Don­nelly.

Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Mike Braun cel­e­brates at an elec­tion night rally Tues­day in In­di­anapo­lis.

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