INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly is positioning himself as a moderate who will fight for “common sense and compromise” as he launches a re-election bid in a state that President Donald Trump easily won last year.
Donnelly, who has a kickoff event set for Monday, is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators on 2018 ballots and that’s drawn U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita into a nasty feud for the Republican nomination to challenge Donnelly. Both Republicans are labeling Donnelly a “Washington liberal,” citing issues such as his votes supporting President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul.
Donnelly, who won his first Senate term in 2012, has tried to cultivate a moderate and independent image, highlighting his work on veterans issues and against outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. He drew the ire of liberals this year by joining only two other Senate Democrats to support Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. He voted against Republican health care proposals that failed in the Senate this summer, saying they threatened health coverage for 400,000 people under the Healthy Indiana Plan backed by then-Gov. Mike Pence and funded by the Medicaid expansion included in Obama’s health care plan.
“There are plenty of champions for the far right and the far left, but not enough for people who just want results,” Donnelly said in remarks prepared for his Monday kickoff event, excerpts of which his campaign provided in advance to The Associated Press. The prepared remarks go on to say, “But that doesn’t mean, as some say, that we have to fight with even more unhinged extremism and pointed fingers. We have to fight for common sense and compromise.”
Donnelly’s comments come as Messer and Rokita for weeks have traded insults and accusations, with both suggesting that the other is “unhinged.” Mike Braun, a wealthy Republican state representative from Jasper, is also running, saying the hostility between Messer and Rokita is turning off voters and will only help Donnelly’s re-election bid.
Donnelly has long blasted free-trade policies for killing American jobs and accused furnace and air conditioning giant Carrier Corp. of exploiting $3-an-hour workers when it announced plans last year to move manufacturing jobs from Indiana to Mexico.
Donnelly said last month that he was selling his stock in his family’s arts and crafts company after the AP reported it manufactures dye for ink pads in Mexico. In a financial disclosure form filed in May, Donnelly reported owning as much as $50,000 of stock in Stewart Superior Corp. and earning between $15,001 and $50,000 in dividends on it during 2016 alone.
He said he was selling the stock so the issue wouldn’t become “a distraction from our work to end outsourcing and keep American jobs here instead of shipping them to other countries.” Donnelly’s brother runs the company.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has criticized Donnelly as “hypocritically profiting” from the company’s actions.
Donnelly, 61, was first elected to the U.S. House from the South Bend area in 2006 before winning the 2012 Senate race with just more than 50 percent of the vote over Republican Richard Mourdock, a tea party favorite who drew criticism for comments about abortion and rape during the campaign.
After Monday’s kick-off event at a United Auto Workers hall in Anderson, Donnelly plans a weeklong RV tour with more than 30 stops around the state.
No challengers to Donnelly have emerged for the Democratic nomination.
The GOP race, however, has already caused a split among the state’s Republican elite — with Greg Pence, an older brother of the vice president, supporting Messer as his campaign fundraising chairman and the top leaders of Trump’s 2016 Indiana campaign endorsing Rokita.