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
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.
Maybe 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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