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Indiana's Joe Donnelly, Fighting Jackie Walorski and His Own Democratic Party

4 years ago
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sSOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Donnelly and his Republican challenger in next month's election, state Rep. Jackie Walorski, have a fair amount in common: Both are pro-gun, pro-life, and oppose climate change legislation, though it's Donnelly who has been endorsed by the NRA, and he, too, who emphasizes his stand against illegal immigration.

Both candidates are running against Nancy Pelosi and on Hoosier values, whatever those might be. (Note to those decrying my fly-over elitism: I grew up across the Wabash River from Indiana, attended Notre Dame, and often visit my parents in Evansville. Then again, perhaps watching 18-year-old Hoosiers flock across the Illinois state line to drink legally in my hometown has forever skewed my view; mostly, they seemed thirsty.)

One big difference between the candidates, however, here in Indiana's 2nd Congressional District -- one of the country's purplest swing districts, in a state where unemployment is a dismal 10.2 percent -- is that while Walorski has gotten help from some of the biggest names in her party, Donnelly has no one to call. Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and John Boehner have all done events with Walorski, a local firefighter's daughter who's done Christian relief work in Romania. Sarah Palin has endorsed Walorski on her Facebook page. But Donnelly, a lawyer and small business owner, has run ads that run down his party, which isn't even mentioned in a campaign brochure touting his independence.

Rep. Joe DonnellyMaybe his fellow centrist, Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, could show up and wave? Sure, if Donnelly wants to alienate even more Democrats furious at the damage Bayh is seen to have done their party, waiting until the last moment to announce his retirement from the Senate in a way that gave former Evansville sheriff Brad Ellsworth exactly four days to jump into the race to replace him. Rep. Ellsworth, who now represents the "Bloody 8th" Congressional District, is widely expected to lose the Senate race to former U.S. senator and lobbyist Dan Coats. He will likely be replaced in Congress by Republican heart surgeon Larry Bucshon, whose opponent, Democratic state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, gave up his safe seat in the statehouse to run -- and is also expected to lose. Evan Bayh: The gift that keeps taking.

Donnelly's damn-those-Dems strategy does seem to be working; he's up in a recent WSBT poll, and has much higher favorable ratings than Walorski. But in a still-tight race in a Republican year, he's done such a good job of distancing himself from his party that his challenge now is to bring home the base, and turn out those Democrats who actually like their party and are proud of Pelosi's accomplishments in passing health care reform and financial reform.

If Indiana is the bellwether that many here see it as, Donnelly's vulnerability is a bad sign for Democrats since, as the Indianapolis Star noted recently, "Republicans appear to be on their way to reclaiming one of the three seats they lost in 2006 and are mounting a strong challenge for a second. They entertain hopes of taking back the third, as well, although their candidate, state lawmaker Jackie Walorski, is conservative enough to accuse the National Rifle Association of being irresolute.''

In the end, as in districts across the country, South Bend Tribune political columnist Jack Colwell told me, "it'll be close and it'll come down to turnout.'' Walorski, who initially presented herself as a "pit bull" in the Palin mold, has backed off that tack, Colwell says, after some voters found her intensity intimidating. (This video, for instance, shows her forcefulness on the abortion issue.) Still, she "has a kind of charisma" with fellow conservatives, "and they will turn out for her. There could be a tsunami off the St. Joe River and they'd come out'' to the polls on Election Day, while "Joe [Donnelly] has a problem with progressives," in particular as a result of his anti-Pelosi rhetoric.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Walorski has less to lose and more room to maneuver. Donnelly, whose campaign manager said he only talks to local reporters, recently told the South Bend Tribune, "I don't worry about Democrat or Republican." But he has to hope that on Nov. 2, his fellow D's do not return the favor.

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Filed Under: 2010 Elections

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Donnelly is not considered pro-life. Where are those endorsements?? You can call yourself whatever you want, it doesn't make it true. Talking about lies and half truths... seems to be a lot coming from that camp. I'm really disgusted.

October 24 2010 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I grew up in the St Joe County Indiana area (where South Bend is located) and have long seen the hold the dems have in that area. I no longer live in Indiana but my opinion is if it walks like a Republican and talks like a Republican it should BE a Republican. Donnelly is sitting on the fence with conservative ideas but wants the backing of the Dems to stay in office as a Republican running for office just does not do well in the northwest area of Indiana. As for me, I would love to see the Republican candidate kick behind up there.

October 15 2010 at 2:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Donnelly is a Tea Party Democrat. He will not be the last. Democrats used to stand for states rights, limiting or in some cases eliminating governmental intrusions into personal lives, direct and as-local-as-it-can-be connection between common people and the those who represent them. Common sense was once sought rather than scorned by them. Democrats were considered a "big tent" where strict adherence to a shrieking agenda was not required, etc. Until the Democrats return to their core principles, or at least articulate AND live by some principles other than "we want power", "the Republicans are worse and probably are secretly evil and hating you and plotting to enslave or exploit you" and "it's a federal problem and needs a federal solution" and "we are the the only ones who will keep supplying you on your bread-and-circus habit", the slow progression away from their junk will continue. That said, the same is true of Repbulicans. I don't think most Repubs or Dems have figured out how fundamental the danger is of the spirit behind the Tea Party... the Repubs are trying to coopt them, and the Dems distance themselves as if teh TP'ers have nothing to do with Democratic politics.... it will not be quick and there will be 3 steps forward and sometimes 2 steps back, but the baby boomer administration of this country without principle or plan must eventually crash down. Money that is not valueless is frosting produced by real economic production,by work that generates more than its inputs, and cannot be decreed or legislated into existence. Freedom means some folks need to be free to fail. You cannot keep promising a group that you are there to lift them up when all you do is placate them while they stay down, and aren't even given the freedom to try on their own.

October 15 2010 at 8:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Mr. Donnally may be a fine man. We in IN know, however, that he is a big union supporter and with the legislation the Obama admin has in it's playbook waiting for the new congress, we can't afford to take any chances that he will actually buck the Pelosi plan. He votes his party. He was not so vocal in his "independence" during the past two years.

October 15 2010 at 7:12 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply


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