Boy, that Joe Donnelly sure is one lucky son of a gun. The only reason the Indiana Democrat was able to sneak into the United States Senate in 2012 was that Republicans were stupid enough to nominate Richard Mourdock, a right-wing extremist whose candidacy was doomed the minute he said that a woman being raped was “something that God intended to happen.”
Donnelly won't be so lucky this time. This is still a very conservative state, and the GOP next year will surely be smart enough to nominate a more acceptable candidate. The Democrat's days are numbered, and 2018 will be the year when Republicans increase their lead in the Senate by at least one.
But not so fast there, Republican chicken counters. That egg has not quite hatched yet.
As David Byler points out in Real Clear Politics, the Mourdock-Donnelly race was close even before Mourdock's unfortunate comment. Indiana has a Cook Political Report rating of plus-6 Republican, so if the race was close, it means that either Donnelly was a good candidate or that Mourdock was problematic in other ways or, most likely, both.
Republicans need to face the fact that Donnelly is a very appealing, personable candidate, and he has some positions that most Republicans can support. He identifies as pro-life, supported the Keystone XL pipeline and opposed President Obama's executive action on immigration. He has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
Yes, he opposes Republican efforts to “fix” Obamacare. But truthfully, the GOP has made such a hash of that issue that it's difficult to say it's a negative for a Democrat. Some Republicans like Obamacare better than they once did, and others are more than a little cynical about Republicans' unwillingness to repeal Obamacare after promising so long to do so.
Certainly Republicans are likely to choose a more formidable candidate this time around. And it's still difficult for a Democrat to make the case in Indiana that he is conservative enough for Hoosiers. But Donnelly will be a good candidate with more going for him that a bit of good luck. Republicans will take him for granted at their own peril.
Republicans might feel good about their party in this state. But they should be embarrassed by their senators' performance in the Senate. Unless those GOP standard bearers start improving, Hoosier Republicans might be forgiven for wondering what difference it makes who they vote to send to Washington.