5/14/18 -- Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita beat each other up in the primary, and it allowed businessman Mike Braun to sneak up the middle and capture the nomination. The danger for Republicans is that Braun hasn’t been thoroughly vetted, because Messer and Rokita focused so much of their fire on each other. The danger for Democrats is that someone who hasn’t been to Washington is a pretty good foil for Joe Donnelly in this environment. Polling shows a tight race, which is not what an incumbent Democratic Senator running in a red state wants at this point in the cycle. Assuming no major skeletons are in Braun’s closet, Donnelly is in deep trouble.
Indiana is an anomaly in many ways. Unlike northern tier states such as Minnesota and Michigan, large portions of the state have a Southern heritage; unlike Ohio and Illinois, it lacks a massive industrial super-city that drew in scores of Eastern and Southern European immigrants around the turn of the century. Because of this, its politics have been very different from those of other Great Lakes states. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the most Democratic Great Lakes state. Today, it is the most heavily Republican. Democrat Vance Hartke won a senate seat in the state in an upset in the good Democratic year of 1958. He was re-elected in the 1964 landslide. He won a third term in 1970 against a quality Republican opponent, but lost in a landslide to Republican Richard Lugar in 1976. Lugar won six terms before losing a primary challenge in a landslide to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mourdock, in turn, made a controversial statement about rape shortly before the election, which went to Democrat Joe Donnelly. Donnelly is unlikely to be so lucky this time around. Republicans have a pair of well-qualified potential opponents in representatives Luke Messer and Todd Rokita. President Trump’s low job approval ratings will hurt whoever emerges from the primary, but the red nature of the state pretty much guarantee it will remain on our radar screen.