The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, August 22, 2017 1:00 am

Donnelly says focus is on helping Hoosiers

GOP says he acts moderate in Indiana, liberal in D.C.

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly threw a baseball Monday evening at Parkview Field to cap a day of ceremonial first pitches for his re-election campaign.

Donnelly, D-Ind., visited five Hoosier cities, ending in Fort Wayne, as part of his “Hoosier Highways” tour in launching his bid for a second six-year term in the Senate.

He used a baseball analogy when asked to respond to Republican charges that he talks like a moderate in Indiana and votes like a liberal on Capitol Hill.

“What I try to do is just hit the ball down the middle and focus on what makes things better for families,” he said, noting that the Lugar Center, a public policy think tank, has ranked him as the second-most bipartisan member of Congress, after Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

Donnelly pointed out that he had voted for a Republican Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and against a GOP health care bill he said would strip medical insurance from 400,000 Hoosiers.

Donnelly said he had supported Gorsuch even though “I don't agree with him on everything. But that's not the test. The test isn't 100 percent agreement with me or somebody else. The test is, is it right for America.”

Donnelly, 61, won election to the Senate in 2012 by defeating tea party Republican Richard Mourdock, who had beaten 36-year Sen. Richard Lugar – the Lugar Center founder and leader – in that year's GOP primary. A resident of Granger, Donnelly was a member of the House from 2007 through 2012. 

Next year's Republican Senate primary election has drawn six announced candidates for Donnelly's seat: U.S. Reps. Luke Messer of Greensburg and Todd Rokita of Brownsburg, state Rep. Mike Braun of Jasper, Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and New Albany college administrator Andrew Takami.

Messer announced Monday that he has been endorsed by conservative Republican activist Jim Bopp, a Terre Haute attorney known nationally for his work on court cases, including Citizens United, that challenge campaign finance regulations.

Asked by a reporter about possible GOP opponents in next year's general election, Donnelly replied: “It doesn't matter to me. My focus is on how can I every day do a better job for Hoosiers. And if I do, everything else takes care of itself.”

Donnelly is one of 10 Democrats up for re-election in the Senate next year in states that Republican Donald Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. Three nonpartisan political analysts – Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball – recently rated Donnelly's race as a toss-up between him and whatever Republican he faces.

As of July 1, Donnelly had almost $3.7 million in campaign cash, compared with $2.35 million for Rokita and $2.03 million for Messer, according to their latest campaign finance reports.

Although Indiana's senior senator is regarded by congressional watchdogs as among the more moderate members of the 100-person Senate, Indiana Republicans have been trying to portray him as a liberal along the lines of Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont. 

State GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer said Monday in a statement that “here in Indiana, Democrat Donnelly says he's a moderate. But in Washington, D.C., he votes with ultra-liberal Bernie Sanders 79 percent of the time.”

According to voting record comparisons conducted by the news organization ProPublica, Donnelly and Sanders have voted alike on 79.8 percent of 1,133 votes cast since 2013.

GovTrack, a nonpartisan organization that keeps track of federal legislation and members of Congress, rated Donnelly as the 55th most conservative senator for 2016, based on bill sponsorships, and the second most conservative Democrat, behind Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Sanders was rated the 99th most conservative senator, and Warren was 100th.

On Monday, Donnelly shook hands, chatted and posed for photos with baseball fans before he went to the field to join other people who were scheduled to toss ceremonial first pitches ahead of the Midwest League game between the TinCaps and Great Lakes. By coincidence, freshman Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, wearing a home-team jersey, was among the throwers; he had brought employees and family to the baseball game as part of a staff retreat.

The two members of Congress shared pitching tips along the first-base foul line before taking turns on the diamond.

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