The Slatest

Republican Mike Braun Defeats “Accidental Senator” Joe Donnelly in Indiana, All but Dooming Democrats’ Chances of Taking Back the Senate

Mike Braun.
Mike Braun. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Indiana Republicans have felt for six years that Democrat Joe Donnelly is only a senator through pure dumb luck. They … were basically right! Joe Donnelly won’t be a senator anymore. The GOP candidate, businessman Mike Braun, defeated Donnelly. At the time several networks called it, Braun had a lead of about 12 percentage points, 54 to 42.

This just about dooms Democratic hopes for taking back the Senate.

Donnelly’s ascent to the Senate from the House of Representatives in 2012 was a fluke. He almost certainly would have lost to longtime GOP incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar, but Lugar was defeated in the primary by a Tea Party candidate, Richard Mourdock. Mourdock committed a fatal gaffe in a debate near the end of the general, when he said that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Donnelly won by 6 percentage points.


Republicans hoped that they could knock out the “accidental senator” this cycle, and two sitting GOP members of Congress, Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, both declared Senate bids. But incumbent Republican House members struggled in primaries all cycle long, and Braun beat them both in the primary.

In the general election, each candidate pressed hard against the other’s (vague) connections to sending jobs overseas. The Indiana Republican Party dubbed Donnelly “Mexico Joe” because his brother’s business, which Donnelly had invested in, manufactures components in Mexico, while Braun’s distribution company sold goods made in China.

Later in the campaign, though, Braun tied Donnelly to the national Democratic Party and Chuck Schumer, and hit him especially hard for his vote against Brett Kavanaugh. Donnelly tried to counter by playing up his support for Trump’s immigration policies, including the border wall. In the closing days of the race, though, perhaps recognizing that he should offer his own party some reason to vote, he campaigned with former President Barack Obama.

It didn’t work.