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Donnelly as Senator

Donnelly as Senator by Grace McCormick and Noah Ehrman

In 2012, Indiana voters elected Democrat Joe Donnelly to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Donnelly is now running for his second term against Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton. The three candidates have participated in two debates, both broadcasted on local channels. Donnelly emphasized, in both debates, that he does not believe in polarized politics. While he holds the title of a Democrat, he sides with Republicans on issues such as immigration, abortion and gun control – issues that young voters are more likely to accept. This election season has shown an increase of almost ten percentage points in young Indiana voters, according to the Indiana Election Division. With such a drastic increase in the number of young voters, residents are questioning if Donnelly is the appropriate representative of Indiana.


Donnelly has political experience. He has served as senator for six years and his claim that he fights for Hoosier families is true. In his six years as senator, Donnelly has voted for middle class tax cuts, fought to end job outsourcing and increased funding to education programs. Voting in the best interest of Indiana is Donnelly’s main goal as senator. In a red state, it seems appropriate that he is socially conservative. While many Indiana residents, especially young people, disagree with his moderate views, it appears he represents Indiana’s main concerns well.

President Donald Trump and Donnelly agree on 62% of issues, according to one of Donnelly’s press releases on his website. Trump has thanked Donnelly for encouraging the Right to Try bill, which allows terminally ill patients to test unapproved medicines. Despite applauding Donnelly for supporting this bill and agreeing with him on immigration laws and his abortion stance, Trump has shown fierce support of Braun in the Indiana senate race.

Donnelly and Braun are using similar techniques to win over conservative voters in their commercials, including supporting some of Trump’s policies. While it is unusual that a Democrat would advertise the ways he supports a Republican president, this tactic reinforces Donnelly’s bipartisan beliefs. As touted by his supporters, Donnelly puts state over party and focuses on issues important to Hoosiers.

In both senate debates, Donnelly and Braun were each using Donnelly’s opposition to appointing Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as an attempt to win votes. According to a Wall Street Journal poll, almost 56% of Americans think Kavanaugh does not belong on the Supreme Court. Being predictably conservative on almost every issue, most Americans think Kavanaugh does not possess the bipartisan thinking that a Supreme Court justice should have.

By appointing Kavanaugh, Trump was hoping Roe vs. Wade could be overturned. While running in 2016, Trump said he opposed abortions except in cases of incest, sexual assault or a threat of the life of the mother. Donnelly agrees with this stance. In the second senate debate, Donnelly focused on Braun’s belief that abortion should be illegal in all cases.

In response to this Braun said, “I was raised to respect the sanctity of life.”

Donnelly rebutted that the sanctity of the lives of mothers should be taken into account when considering the legality of abortion.

“If your wife gets that terrible news that she will lose her life in this pregnancy,” Donnelly said, “that is your family. I can’t think of any reason the government needs to be involved in that decision.”

The senate nominees discussed their positions on abortion while responding to a question about affordable contraceptives. The Affordable Care Act, which Donnelly voted for, includes contraceptive coverage. On health care, Donnelly believes Democrats and Republicans should work together to ensure citizens’ best interests. A main focus of Donnelly’s push for affordable health care is cost sharing, which would assist patients in paying lower premiums. Donnelly has opposed any health care proposition that would significantly raise premiums, according to The Journal Gazette.

“[Donnelly] understands that if we truly want to strengthen our health care system, we have to work together,” an article on said. “That is why he has worked with Republicans on ideas to stabilize the health insurance markets, promote price transparency and develop effective ideas to lower the cost of health care.”

There is no doubt that when it comes to health care, Donnelly puts what is best for Indiana residents above his political party’s interests.

Another issue where Donnelly has worked closely with Republicans is on immigration. Believing that illegal immigrants are a threat to American jobs, Donnelly supports funding for the border wall.

“Solving our country’s illegal immigration problem must begin with securing our borders. Since coming to Congress, I’ve helped double Border Patrol funding and provide new technologies so border agents can do their jobs better,” Donnelly said in a press release. “I’ve also consistently supported border fence construction and helped add more than 5,000 new Border Patrol agents.”

Donnelly’s stance on immigration is one of several polarizing issues where he sides with Republicans. Although I disagree with Donnelly’s immigration stance, I do admire that his reasons behind supporting fiercer immigration laws are to serve the best interest of Hoosier workers.

A polarizing issue where Donnelly’s moderate politics stands out is gun control. While many Democrats support bans on assault rifles and machine guns, Donnelly takes a different approach to support legislation that would enforce stricter background checks for firearm purchasers and prevent those with a background of terrorism or mental illness from buying a gun.

On issues that would typically be polarizing for any other politician, such as abortion or gun control, Donnelly continues to exercise bipartisan beliefs. Nutrition program funding tends to be a non-partisan issue. Most people would agree that nutrition programs need funding in order for children to receive healthy meals at an affordable price. The disagreement is whether this funding should come from the state or federal government. When asked about nutrition programs, Donnelly did not indicate whether he supported state or federal funding, only saying, “A seven-year-old child doesn’t know the difference between state rights and federal rights. They just know they’re hungry.”

Although he did not give his opinion on state and federal regulations of nutrition programs, we can assume from this statement that Donnelly will ensure children have access to affordable, nutritious food.

An admirable goal of Donnelly’s is ending the opioid crisis, something that hits close to home for Indiana residents. Emphasizing this issue as his top priority as senator may help him win over undecided voters.

Another local issue Donnelly has been pressing in the debates is climate change. In his six years as senator, he has helped “reduce carbon footprint in Indiana” through working with utility companies. Producing clean ethanol is one of Donnelly’s goals to reduce climate change and better the economy in Indiana.

“I’m so in favor of ethanol,” Donnelly said. “Our farmers grow, right here in Indiana, maybe one of the very, very finest energy sources, one of the cleanest energy sources that we could possibly have…What we are working on every day on climate change is to make it cleaner, to make it American – like ethanol – and to make sure we’re standing up for our farmers and growing our economy.”

Just as Donnelly continues to stand up for farmers, he will surely continue to fight for Hoosier families, from climate change to health care to tax reforms. Anyone who casts a vote for Donnelly can be assured they are voting for a passionate delegate.


In the midst of tight competition for the Senate, some Indiana Democrats are worried about Donnelly sacrificing liberal values for a higher chance of reelection in our historically Republican state.

Donnelly has a long history of going against his party on issues ranging from immigration to gun control. As a Democrat in a traditionally red state, Donnelly markets himself as a moderate. Donnelly himself touts his 62% presidential support score on his official campaign website.

Additionally, he proudly flaunts the praise he received from Donald Trump over his support for the “right to try” bill in a campaign ad.

Immigration is another issue where Donnelly splits from his party and sides with President Trump. He has expressed support for a wall on the Mexican border, and said in a debate that he was open to the idea of passing legislation that removes the right to citizenship granted to people born on U.S. soil by the 14th Amendment.

Donnelly was one of four Senate Democrats who supported a proposal to crack down on sanctuary cities. While Donnelly’s harsh stance on immigration may win him a few more moderate Trump supporters in Indiana, it comes at the cost of support from members of his own party.

This trade-off between the support of the “radical left” for a chunk of would-be Republican voters seems to be a large part of Donnelly’s campaign. In mid-October, Donnelly released a controversial ad criticizing this “radical left” and proclaiming his support for both ICE and Trump’s border wall. In that same ad, Donnelly displays an interest in increasing military spending while strongly rejecting socialists for wanting government-run healthcare.

Any of these differences would be fine in a vacuum. As President Obama said when he visited Indiana to endorse Joe Donnelly, “You don’t want a yes man all the time.”

Few people have opinions that completely match the party they identify with, but Donnelly’s consistent betrayal of core values in his party makes him a mediocre advocate for Indiana’s Democrats. If he votes like a Republican, proudly displays Republican views and constantly vies for Republican votes, he has no business running as a Democrat.

Photo credits to The Journal Gazette.

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