IN THE NEWS: Indiana’s “hired help” in the Senate, Joe Donnelly running a formidable campaign, Politico Magazine profile says
INDIANAPOLIS – Joe Donnelly’s at home navigating in tight spots, whether it’s getting an RV out of its parking space or figuring out how best to represent Hoosiers in the Senate.
That’s the message of a lengthy Politico Magazine profile this morning detailing Joe’s campaign and work in the Senate. A pragmatic Senator in the vein of Richard Lugar, Joe’s work ethic, commitment to the state, and stance on issues from helping our veterans to working with Hoosier farmers have made him a strong representative for Indiana and a formidable campaigner for re-election.
From Politico Magazine: The Loneliest Democrat in Trump Country
In recent months, Donnelly has taken his fair share of lessons in navigating narrow political spaces. Since Trump assumed office, Donnelly has cast a series of votes that have put him at odds with his own party.
But last week, Donnelly voted against the Senate tax bill, which he called in a statement a “partisan tax hike on Indiana’s middle class” that “does nothing to prevent outsourcing of US jobs to foreign countries, and it’s a giveaway to Wall Street and other big money interests.” This, despite months of courting and cajoling from the White House, including a “very pleasant” ride on Air Force One from Washington to Indianapolis for Trump’s tax reform rollout at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in September. “He was nice,” Donnelly said of the president. “It was mostly pleasantries.” During their Air Force One meeting, Trump confided that he thought the 2018 Indiana Senate race promised to be closer than advertised. “A lot of people are telling me that you’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Trump said, according to the senator.
Donnelly delivered a response reminiscent of a Knute Rockne halftime speech. “Well, Mr. President, that’s very nice of you to say, and I think it’s going to be true, because I’m going to work non-stop. I’m going to go to every corner of the state. I’m going to out-hustle everyone, we’re going to run like we’re 10 points down with 10 days to go. And the other thing is this, Mr. President: We share the same views on a lot of subjects. So, we share a lot of the same voters.”
The result is that he may be a more formidable candidate than he gets credit for.
“Outside looking in, we’re a pretty red state,” said one prominent Indiana Republican operative… “But the problem is that Donnelly is not particularly partisan. Overall, he’s done a pretty good job being vocal on the right issues, and he’s chosen his spots carefully. He’s done a good job of walking that line. He’s being underestimated nationally.”
Once in office, Donnelly sought to model Lugar’s bipartisan ways. He took a nuts and bolts approach to governing, eschewing divisive issues and serving on the Armed Services Committee, Banking Committee, Agriculture Committee and Aging Committee. Donnelly’s first bill, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act—named after a Farmland native who committed suicide in 2009 while on leave from National Guard duty in Afghanistan—requires routine mental health evaluations for all service members. “The message was clear and loud to me when I was sent to the Senate, and I was giving this amazing opportunity,” Donnelly told me. “I think that’s how Senator Lugar conducted business, and that’s what I’ve tried to do, and that’s what the people here want. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and tell me, ‘I’m a Republican, but I really appreciate the fact that you just try to do what’s right.’”
Donnelly seeks Lugar’s advice occasionally. “He has done a good job,” Lugar told me in a November interview, approving of his successor’s moderate mien. “He has been thoughtful and constructive. It’s not been by accident that he has been able to pull together majorities and has been successful in doing that.”
Like Lugar, Donnelly told me he views himself as “hired help,” and sees his job as giving voice to Hoosier’s opinions rather than imposing his own on them. According to a September poll of 600 adults conducted by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University, his vote on tax reform tracked with where most Hoosiers seem to be: 60 percent said they believe the wealthy don’t pay their fair share, and 62 percent reported that some corporations don’t pay their fair share. Likewise, when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, 37 percent of respondents wanted Congress to wait to vote to repeal the law until details of a replacement have been worked out. Only 26 percent said Obamacare should be repealed immediately.
Donnelly’s adult daughter, a prosecutor, recently moved back to Indiana, about a mile from his house. The senator had bought a new riding lawnmower, and his daughter’s grass needed a trim. “I’ll give you the mower,” he told her. But how to get it to her? He had a Jeep with a hitch, of course. But he would have to rent a U-Haul. What, he wondered, was keeping him from just driving the mower from his Granger subdivision to her place? He consulted his wife, who instructed him to at least put on a Notre Dame hat and pull it down, to make him less conspicuous. And off he went, riding the mower down a side street in a bustling residential area, drivers honking at him along the way. “It didn’t bother me at all,” Donnelly said. “It was a nice morning to go out for a ride.”
That story is almost all you need to know to understand the pragmatic Joe Donnelly, the red state senator who should have been an easy “yes” vote on tax reform ahead of a tough reelection. Almost. You also need to understand this, he told me: He will fight back in the nation’s most divisive midterm campaigns in 2018. “I want to talk about issues, but I’m going not to stand quietly by. I happen to be a little bit Irish. You hit me, I’ll hit back twice as hard.”