WASHINGTON – Republican Mike Braun has defeated Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, a blow to Democrats trying to maintain their hold on red states that backed President Donald Trump.
With 58 percent of precincts reporting, Braun led Donnelly 54 percent to 42 percent when the Associated Press called the race. Libertarian nominee Lucy Brenton trailed with 4 percent.
The Senate contest in the Hoosier State was expected to be close, and it’s the only race that remained a Toss-up heading into Election Day, according to ratings by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
Trump made Indiana one of his final campaign stops, with a rally in Fort Wayne on the eve of the election. In a state he carried by 19 points and where he remains popular, both candidates had to play up their willingness to work with the president.
Donnelly, a moderate Democrat elected to the Senate in 2012, even ran ads saying he supported building Trump’s border wall. He voted against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh but tried to distance himself from the “radical left.”
Braun won a three-way primary in May by casting himself as a businessman outsider in the model of Trump. He barely mentioned that he was a former state representative, while casting two rival congressmen as career politicians. Instead, he talked about his distribution business, with most of his general election ads showing him walking around a warehouse.
Democrats tried to turn that same business background into a vulnerability on the campaign trail, with both sides trying to make this contest about outsourcing. Democrats pummeled Braun for his business record – which included importing auto parts from China – and for workplace violations. Republicans, meanwhile, attacked Donnelly for once owning a stake in his brother’s company, which used Mexican labor.
Donnelly had the upper-hand for much of the contest following the primary. Braun spent more than $6 million of his own money to win the nomination, but he ran a lackluster campaign over the summer. Republicans worried that he wasn’t putting more of his own funds into the race and that he wasn’t active enough on the trail, especially not in deeply conservative areas of the state where he needed to run up the score.
But Braun began to pick up momentum in the fall, partly because Republicans were tuning in late, partly because he kicked more money into his campaign, and partly because of Kavanaugh. Donnelly was one of three Democrats to vote for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, but his break with Trump on Kavanaugh may have turned off some GOP and independent voters who’d been willing to stick with him over Braun.
Donnelly has been called “the accidental senator” for winning the 2012 race against state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, whose gaffe about rape two weeks before the election turned off suburban GOP voters. But Donnelly supporters had hoped his “Hoosier common sense” campaign, which gave moderate Republicans in the so-called doughnut counties permission to vote for a Democrat in 2012, would help propel the senator over the finish line this year.
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