Republican Mike Braun ousted incumbent Democratic senator Joe Donnelly on Tuesday after a fraught campaign that saw national issues take center stage.
Braun, a manufacturing executive and former state representative, was declared the winner two hours after polls closed across the Hoosier State. Despite never running for statewide and lagging the incumbent in name recognition, Braun was able to route Donnelly by playing up his ties to President Donald Trump, who remains popular in Indiana.
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Donnelly's loss undercuts Democratic efforts to take the majority in the Senate, as the seat was considered a must-win for the party.
On the campaign trail, Braun touted his bona fides as a job creator, his lack of political experience, and the fact that if elected he would be a reliable vote for the president's agenda. Braun further criticized Donnelly for being a "career politician" and being out of touch with "Hoosier values."
Those criticisms were echoed by the president who on numerous occasions castigated Donnelly as an ineffective legislator and a rubber stamp for his fellow Democrat, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
The message seemed to resonate strongly with voters after the Kavanaugh hearings.
Donnelly, who was initially favored to secure re-election this year, saw his campaign enter a tailspin after announcing his opposition to the justice. The senator voted against Kavanaugh even though polling showed that 56 percent of Indiana voters supported confirmation. In an October interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Braun credited Donnelly's opposition to Kavanaugh for swinging momentum in his direction.
Apart from the Kavanaugh vote, Donnelly's campaign was dogged by accusations his company outsourced jobs to Mexico and his votes against defunding Planned Parenthood. In light of the attacks, Donnelly struggled to formulate a consistent message that could appeal to both his conservative-leaning state and his left-leaning party.
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Donnelly and the Indiana Democratic Party came under fire for attempting to split the Republican vote by running social media ads bolstering Lucy Brenton, the Libertarian candidate on the ballot. The ads, which were targeted at Republicans, attacked Braun for being insufficiently conservative on taxes and government spending and urged voters to support Brenton, the "true" fiscal conservative in the race.
Both the Brenton and Braun campaigns denounced the ads as "disingenuous." The Indiana Democratic Party failed to acknowledge its funding of the social media ads and subsequent mailers it sent out across the state touting Brenton.
Braun's victory also showcases the sway that outsiders have running for political office in the age of Trump, something which the candidate elaborated on during a set of get-out-the-vote rallies last week.
"I never would have done this, would not have wasted my time if [President Trump] did not do what he did in 2016."
Braun expressed he was running because of a deep desire to help the president disrupt the status quo in the nation's capital.
"I'm doing this, I think, for the right reasons," Braun said. "Not the pay nor the perks, it's not to nuzzle in D.C—I signed a term limits pledge—it's to help someone that's shaking up Washington."