INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun haven’t found many nice things to say about each other during Indiana’s fierce Senate race, although they both speak kindly of Donald Trump.
For Braun, a multimillionaire auto parts magnate, it’s a no-brainer in a state the president won by 19 points. But for Donnelly, vocally supporting a divisive president runs the risk of alienating liberal voters he needs to win on Tuesday.
Ever since Trump’s victory two years ago, Donnelly has tried to walk a delicate line, celebrating areas where he agreed with the president while promising he won’t be a rubber stamp. Rarely does 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. Our politics are already too partisan and have become way too violent.”
But as the race has tightened, he also adopted some of Trump’s rhetoric, attacking socialists and the “radical left,” while calling for a border wall with Mexico.
That’s angered members of his party, but as a red state Democrat with a narrow path to victory, he may not have many other options.
Republicans say the first-term senator talks a good game. But they argue he has been against Trump when it counts, noting he opposed the GOP-led tax cut, legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“Career politicians like Joe Donnelly will say anything to keep their jobs,” Braun said.
Donnelly has 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.
Now he’s among a handful of Senate Democrats running for re-election in states Trump won. With his party now poised to retake the House, Republicans have intensified their efforts to maintain or expand their narrow Senate majority, and Donnelly is viewed as one of their top targets.
Janet Pfadt, a 68-year-old retiree from Indianapolis, said she voted for Donnelly even though he’s not her “ideal candidate.”
“I am very, very, very concerned about the Republican Party and the direction it has taken,” said Pfradt, who said she used to be a Republican but now identifies as an independent. “I don’t sleep well because of Trump and the direction he is taking the country in.”
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.”
More locally, the race will offer a strong indicator of whether a conservative Democrat can still win in Indiana. The state elected Democrats in decades past to the governor’s office and a greater number of congressional seats. But after voting in 2008 for former President Barack Obama, who campaigned for Donnelly Sunday in Gary, Indiana has swung to the right.
Just look at Braun. Although insisting he’s a lifelong Republican, he voted in Democratic primaries for years, before switching over to the GOP before he was elected to his first of two legislative terms in the Indiana House.
Few would have predicted early in the Republican primary that the little-known businessman could beat the two sitting congressmen who were his rivals.
Propelled by millions in loans that he made to his own campaign, Braun swamped Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita with a wave of hard-hitting advertising.
Braun, who is worth somewhere between $37 million and $95 million, says Trump inspired him to run. If he wins Tuesday, it will be after similarly running on a similar template as an outsider businessman.
“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.”
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics
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