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The view from Indiana: Why the battle for the midwestern state is key to the Senate elections

The Democrats need to retain Senator Joe Donnelly’s seat if they are to have any chance of taking back the Senate, writes Eunan McKinney.

Eunan McKinney

THE FIRST THING that struck me when I landed in Chicago during the current mid-term election campaign was the unrelenting presence of contrasting and negative political advertising on the airwaves.  

The impact of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, dubbed ‘Obamacare’ looms large in this campaign. The Democrats are keen to remind voters that they could lose healthcare gains, if the Republicans continue to control both houses.

Central to the Obamacare debate is the issue of whether people with pre-existing health conditions should be able to retain affordable health insurance. That is an outcome many Republicans view as creeping ‘socialism’.

Immigration is another prominent issue especially as the migrant ‘caravan’  from Central America gets closer to the US border. China’s rising economic and military power and the debate over trade tariffs also feature heavily.

The senate race in the state of Indiana provides a microcosm for all those national issues. It is predicted that in Indiana alone approximately $100m will be spent on the campaign.

I traveled the short distance from Chicago, in Illinois, to Indiana to campaign for the Democrat Senator, Joe Donnelly who is up for re-election there.

In 2012, Donnelly surprised many by winning the seat in the ordinarily Republican-dominated state. Now the Democrats must hold onto Donnelly’s seat if they are to have any prospect of taking back the Senate.

If the Democrats lose Indiana, it’s likely that other key marginal states like Missouri and North Dakota may fall too.

That could leave the Democratic National Committee doing some serious soul-searching to figure out what platform to build for the 2020 cycle, when faced with such divisive and populist forces.

The Republican candidate Mike Braun can rely on the help of President Trump, who will have visited Indiana three times in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Election 2018 Senate Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, Republican former state Rep. Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton Source: Darron Cummings

An astounding flow of money also backs Braun. Super-PAC (Political Action Committee) money pours into the state led by Americans for Prosperity and aided by the Senate Leadership Fund and the NRA. The Republican machine is building momentum.

Indiana is also the home state of Vice President, Mike Pence, who was elected State Governor back in 2012 before Donald Trump selected him as his running mate. The Trump-Pence ticket took Indiana in 2016 with a thumping 18 points.

Thirty miles south-east of Chicago and just across the Indiana state line, big steel towns Hammond and Gary, traditionally had high levels of union membership and backed the Democrats.  

While the unions continue to support the Democrats, some individual members have become big fans of President Trump’s nationalist rhetoric – especially his steel tariffs regime – and that is weakening the Democrat vote.

Gary has been particularly devastated by forty years of decline. It has lost half of its population and most of its middle-class and is now ranked among the most deprived cities in the US.

In the last mid-terms in 2014, only 15% of residents in Gary turned out to vote.

This is the backdrop for Donnelly’s re-election campaign. He needs a big turnout in this traditional ‘blue’ belt if he is to retain his senate seat. So the Democrats are operating a rigorous, targeted operation to ‘Get Out The Vote’. Last weekend alone, they knocked on over 100,000 doors across the state.

Heavy-hitters

Donnelly is bringing in as many heavy-hitters as he can to encourage his vote. Two weeks ago, the much-loved Joe Biden toured some key districts with Donnelly and more recently Senators Durbin and Cortez Masto have visited key battlegrounds.

Last week, a rising star of the Democrats, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also came to Hammond to try to energise the base. Klobuchar came to prominence recently with her forensic questioning of Brett Kavanaugh and is greatly admired by grassroots Democrats.

Her message was that Democrats must protect democracy while also ensuring that the economy performs well, to provide citizens with a decent quality of life.

Further south in Bloomington, a leafy college town that is home to Indiana University, the feel on the ground is much different to that of Hammond.

Here well-educated, middle class Democrats are focused on the threat to their democracy. They are horrified by their President and many discuss leaving the US if Trump wins a second term.

Early tallies suggest that turnout by comparison to the 2014 mid-terms has doubled. This could be good for Donnelly, but with days to go, the opinion polls indicate that support for both candidates has solidified to form a race that is just too tight to call.

Eunan McKinney is a Communications Officer with Alcohol Action Ireland and has been volunteering with the Donnelly campaign in Indiana in a personal capacity. 

Midterm Option 2

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Eunan McKinney

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