The Midterms: Indiana

Before looking at the important Senate race, there are two Congressional races that have apparently drawn the attention of the Democrats who may be mistakenly believing a “blue wave” is coming.  Most polls show that it may be a ripple.

The first race is in the Second District where Republican incumbent Jackie Walorsky who is opposed by Mel Hall on the Democratic side.  This is the district involving South Bend and was formerly represented by current Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly.  Walorsky won this seat in an open race in 2012 when Donnelly ran for Senate instead.  In Walorsky’s favor is incumbency, but that may actually be a disadvantage.  She also represents a district that was easily won by Trump in 2016.  Hall has been careful not to attack Trump or his policies and has come out in support of his recent tax cuts and deregulation.  His main attack against Walorsky is her failure to hold town hall meetings and talking to constituents.  Her office has been the scene of multiple protests.

The other Congressional district they seem to see an opportunity is the very conservative Ninth District.  That is because it is represented by freshman incumbent Trey Hollingsworth whom they accuse of “carpetbagging.”  He won in 2016 in an open race with heavy backing from his wealthy family and conservative PACs.  While most officials believe Democratic challenger Liz Watson is a long shot, they also believe that in a wave year, she has the ability to defeat him and has thus far outraised Hollingsworth 2-1.  Losing this seat would be a major upset for the GOP, but not likely.

There are two open races- in the Fourth and Sixth- formerly represented by Republicans Todd Rosita and Luke Messer, respectively.  Both vacated their seats to run for US Senate only to lose to eventual GOP primary winner, Mike Braun.  Neither of these races have attracted any attention and will remain firmly in GOP control.

Now for the important Senate race pitting Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly against Republican businessman Mike Braun.  This race can be characterized by the attacks on the businesses- current and former- of both Donnelly and Braun.  Braun pumped $6.4 million of his own money into the primary campaign, then said he intended NOT to do the same for the general election campaign and he seems to be sticking to his word.  That has some Republicans in Indiana worried that he is running a low energy campaign.  Unlike Donnelly who has held over 190 campaign events since May, the worry among Indiana GOP officials is that Braun seems to be coasting.  Twice Trump has campaigned here and although he generated excitement, that for Braun was lukewarm.

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed PAC, interviewed Braun and decided NOT to directly support him.  And although the Chamber of Commerce announced no interest in the race, they are running commercials attacking Donnelly for voting against the recent tax cuts.  Conversely, Democratic and liberal groups have pumped over $22 million in advertising into this race mainly criticizing Braun for his business practices.  Braun built up an auto parts giant which is national in nature.  One such commercial features a former employee who claims that he was terminated while in the hospital, that the termination was back-dated and he lost his insurance coverage causing financial ruin.  They are further trying to portray Braun as a greedy businessman who fires employees who report mistreatment, denies overtime to eligible employees and outsources some of his business to China.

For his part, Braun has run ads using employees- current and former- denying the allegations against his business.  He has likewise attacked Donnelly’s family business for outsourcing jobs to Mexico and one commercial concluded with Donnelly’s face painted in the tricolor flag of Mexico.  In fact, in campaign events, Braun has referred to Donnelly as “Mexico Joe.”  Democrats respond that Donnelly has not been involved in the family business for decades.

Of course, the entire race was thrown into turmoil over the Kavanaugh circus and Donnelly’s decision to vote against confirmation.  This has created an opportunity for Braun to exploit, besides Donnelly’s opposition to Trump’s tax cuts.  If we leave aside the background noise regarding this or that family business and stick to issues, Braun has a great opportunity to hurt the chances of Donnelly.  There is very scant polling on how the Kavanaugh vote affects vulnerable red state Democrats up for reelection.  One such poll out of Indiana by a Democratic pollster found a tie if Donnelly voted for confirmation and a nine point Donnelly lead if he voted AGAINST confirmation.  Again, this is a Democratic pollster, so it must be taken with a grain of salt because it is rather hard to believe that Indiana voters approved of the treatment of Kavanaugh.

For an important race, there is a shortage of polling.  In fact, the Illinois Governor’s race has decidedly more polling information than this one.  However, one thing is shown in these polls.  Before the Kavanaugh hearings, Braun trailed by an average of 2.2 points which, when you factor in incumbency, is likely enough to get Donnelly over the finish line.  After the hearings, Braun actually leads Donnelly by an average of 1.7 points.  That is why one has to take that earlier cited Democratic poll on the effect of votes and Kavanaugh with a huge grain of salt.  Further, the fact that Donnelly led by only 2.2 points pre-Kavanaugh with many undecided voters in those polls is indication that he is a vulnerable Democratic incumbent.

It is hard to gauge this race given all the factors involved, the background noise, the apparent reluctance of conservative groups to get involved (the Chamber of Commerce originally decided to sit it out, but has since been attacking Donnelly), and the concerns of Indiana’s GOP over Braun.  Given the trend line on this race, one thing is obvious: should Donnelly win reelection, it will be by a narrow margin.  And despite Braun claiming he was not going to personally invest in this race, filings indicate that he has pumped an additional $1 million of his own money into it and is keeping pace with Donnelly on the fundraising front.

Given these factors, with the by-now obvious caveat to revisit the race at the end of the series, this writer is predicting an extremely small margin victory for Braun.  Republicans remain convinced that Donnelly’s 2012 victory was a fluke against a weak opponent in Richard Murdouck who had defeated Dick Lugar in the primary and proceeded to repeat the errors of Todd Akin with foot-in-mouth disease.  Trump won this state handily and Romney won it in 2012 despite the very narrow Obama victory in 2008.  Trump remains fairly popular in this state with a 48% approval rating which is the same approval rating, according to Morning Consult, voters in Indiana give Donnelly in the second quarter of the year.  In the most recent ratings, he has dropped to 39% approval and 38% disapproval.  That also spells a Donnelly loss and the only thing that changed between the second and third quarter rankings was the Kavanaugh hearings.

As of this entry, the numbers are as follows:

US Senate 27-23 Republican, US House 65-54 Republican, and Governors 17-8 Republican.

We are now through 25 states with 25 to go.  Tomorrow, this writer will look at races in Oklahoma and Montana.