Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) gets a challenger in IN-2

Yesterday, State Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) filed for an exploratory committee to challenge Congressman Joe Donnelly (D) in Indiana’s 2nd District.  This announcement is personally important to me, because I just happen live in both of their respective districts, and I have followed them both closely.  I would argue that this race is also important for the GOP at large, and it is one that you should watch carefully next year.

You may remember Joe Donnelly as the squish who beat Rep. Chris Chocola in the 2006 Democratic Sweep.  (Chris is now the president of the Club for Growth.)  In fact, 2006 was a particularly horrid year for Indiana Republicans.  Going into election night, Indiana had a 7-2 GOP advantage in its congressional delegation.  By the end of the night, the Democrats had won 3 seats and held a 5-4 advantage, which it still has to this day.

Since 2006, Joe Donnelly has played the moderate role well.  In 2007, Congressional Quarterly rated him among the “ten most independent Democrats in Congress.”  The American Conservative Union gave him a 44 rating for the same year.  Joe often trumpets his moderate-conservative image within the district, and, indeed, he does often find himself at odds with Nancy Pelosi, the Cap and Trade bill being a recent example.  He has a pro-life voting record, and he is one of the better Democrats on the immigration issue (NumbersUSA gives him an “A” grade).  But when it comes to spending issues, Donnelly has proven to be a true porker, earning just a 7 percent rating from the Club for Growth in 2008.  He also voted in favor of the stimulus bill last spring.

So, why is this race significant?  Because Indiana’s 2nd District is ripe for picking. 

The 2nd District is exactly the kind of district that the GOP has been losing for the past couple of cycles.  It is a mix of urban, suburban, and rural.  It has a strong base of middle class, blue collar voters that have been hit particularly hard in this recession.  The 2nd District went for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but flipped to Barack Obama in 2008 (The victor won roughly 55 percent of the vote each time).  It is currently rated as R+2.  The 2nd District is a case-book swing district, and it is one that the GOP needs to win back if it is going to have new majority.

Think of Jackie Walorski as Indiana’s version of Michele Bachmann.  She has earned the nickname “Wacky Jackie” from local liberals, because she irritates them so much.  And why not?  Jackie is a passionate social and fiscal conservative.  Over the summer, she travelled the State campaigning against socialized healthcare, and even travelled to D.C. to personally pressure Joe Donnelly.  She is a leading defender of the 2nd Amendment, an advocate of energy exploration, and is strongly pro-life.  She fits the district well, with her Hoosier folksiness, her practical approach to solving problems, her strong work ethic, and her excellent communication skills.  A visible politician in the South Bend media market, Walorski already has broad name-recognition in the 2nd District.  Walorski is also a proven fundraiser, which, I assume, is one of the reasons the NRCC has pursued her so heavily.

IN-2 will be tough for both candidates, and I think the national dynamics will make it close.  A pro-life Democrat fits nicely into the mainstream of this district, so Joe Donnelly is well-liked personally.  That said, he is not going to win 67 percent of the vote again, like he did in 2008.  It appears 2010 is shaping up to be a repeat of 2006, only in the reverse, and Donnelly knows it.  There is just as much anxiety in Indiana as there is elsewhere, and that will bear fruit come next November. 

Jackie Walorski is probably the only conservative in northern Indiana with enough name recognition and support to win (with the exception of Lou Holtz, perhaps).  She will be a strong challenger.  For that reason, conservatives should watch IN-2 closely.  In 2006, it was a bellwether for the Democratic Sweep.  In 2010, it could prove to be the same, only for the Republicans.  If she decides to officially jump in the race (and I assume she will), Walorski is just the kind of conservative candidate that RedState should get excited about. 

Here is a video of her speaking at a rally against President Obama during his visit to Wakarusa (Elkhart County, IN) in August: