Indiana Senate Debate Explainer

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Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton are scheduled to debate at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the campus of Purdue University Northwest in Westville. The Indiana Debate Commission organized the debate and selected broadcaster Anne Ryder to moderate. Seasoned political forecasters consider the Senate election in Indiana to be competitive, with no major party candidate having a prohibitive lead or advantage over the other.

From left to right: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) are the major party nominees for the U.S. Senate election in Indiana.

So, who are the candidates and what do they stand for?


Joe Donnelly is the senior senator from Indiana seeking re-election this year. Donnelly was first elected to the Senate in 2012 by a margin of 5.7 percent. Donnelly previously represented Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2013. Donnelly is a Democrat with a centrist voting record according to the UCLA’s Department of Political Science.  Donnelly said, “I never went to Washington to fight for the far left, or the far right. I went for the Hoosiers in the middle who want to see us deliver results.”

Mike Braun is a businessman who represented the 63rd District of the Indiana House of Representatives from 2014 to 2017. Braun is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate who seeks to unseat Donnelly. Braun serves as the president and CEO of Meyer Distributing, a company headquartered in Jasper, Indiana. Braun has an 82 percent lifetime conservative voting record according to the American Conservative Union. Braun’s campaign website describes him as “a Hoosier conservative who can get the job done.” The website touts Braun partnering “with conservative leaders like Vice President Mike Pence.”

Lucy Brenton is the Libertarian nominee for the Senate race this year. Brenton previously attained the Libertarian nomination for the 2016 Senate race and received 5.5 percent of the vote against Republican Sen. Todd Young and Democratic former Sen. Evan Bayh.

Health care

Donnelly voted for the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare and voted against attempts to repeal the law. In June, Donnelly said, “Health care is a basic human right for every single American.” Donnelly’s Senate page claims the ACA “lowers the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors by closing the Medicare “donut hole,” requires health insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions, allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26, and provides tax breaks for small businesses.” Donnelly supports repealing the ACA’s medical device tax and redefining full-time under the law to mean those who work an average of at least 40 hours per week instead of 30 hours.

Braun’s campaign page describes the ACA as an “unmitigated disaster.” In a letter to the Kokomo Tribune, Braun said, “When I’m in the Senate, I’ll take action and keep pushing for the full repeal of Obamacare.” In the same letter, Braun urged Indiana Republicans in the House to support a bill that would end the Medicaid expansion, the individual mandate, the mandate for large employers, the premium assistance tax credit and subsidies for cost-sharing. Braun’s campaign page states, “There is no repairing this broken law; the only option is to repeal and replace every word and regulation.” Braun’s campaign page states that he instead supports, “allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines and allowing small businesses to pool together to purchase insurance at lower prices.”


Donnelly voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or the Trump tax cuts. Donnelly said, “The benefits from the McConnell tax bill have largely gone to the wealthiest Americans and multinational corporations.” In April 2014, Donnelly voted for cloture for a bill that would have gradually increased the federal minimum wage over two years to $10.10 an hour if the bill had not died in the Senate.

Braun said, “I strongly support President Trump's tax cuts for Indiana small businesses and hard-working Hoosier families.” Braun attributes recent GDP growth and job gains to Trump’s economic policies. “All sectors of our economy benefit from President Trump’s economy policies like his historic tax cuts,” Braun said.  Braun opposed a legislative amendment that would have increased the Indiana minimum wage to $10.10 an hour while serving as a state representative.


In an ad, Donnelly said, “I voted for and supported Trump’s immigration bill including funding for the border wall.” Donnelly also opposed the immigration policy of separating children from their families if their parents entered illegally, and supports passing legislation to bring “clarity and stability” to those who were not deported due to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

Braun’s campaign website states, “We must act immediately to secure the border by building a wall.” In June, a Braun spokesman said, “Just like President Trump, he doesn’t want to see families separated.” Braun has vowed to end “chain migration”, a process under federal law formally known as “family reunification” in which legal U.S. residents may sponsor a family member for immigration.


As previously reported, Donnelly supports a bump stock ban, preventing those on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms, and expanding background checks for gun shows.

Braun is supported by the National Rifle Association, an organization that opposes expanding firearm regulations including the specific reforms called for by Donnelly.

Judicial nominations

Donnelly voted against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s most recent Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was alleged to have committed sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford, among other accusers. “Sexual assault has no place in our society,” Donnelly said. “When it does occur, we should listen to the survivors and work to ensure it never happens again.”

Braun supported the appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and said that the accusations against Kavanaugh were smears from a “Democrat media circus.” Braun said, “Donnelly’s decisions to oppose President Trump’s highly qualified nominee is a grave mistake.” On the day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Braun said that Kavanaugh would “protect our Constitution on the Supreme Court.”

LGBT rights

As a senator, Donnelly voted for federal legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at work and in school, as well as in programs for homeless youth and domestic abuse victims.  Donnelly said, “We want to be a state where we treat everybody equally, where everybody feels welcome.” Donnelly also opposed President Donald Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces. “People who love this country and want to serve our nation should have the chance to do so,” Donnelly said.

Braun opposes federal legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and voted against statewide protections for LGBT people as a state representative. “If there is something that would prove salient in the fact that there is discrimination or some right not there that others have,” Braun said. “But there's nothing that stands out now.” Braun also voted for the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which generated nationwide controversy as opponents argued the law would permit business owners to discriminate against LGBT people.


An average of the polls for this race weighted by recency, sample size and methodological quality suggests the major party candidates are closely matched in margin. The weighted average suggests Donnelly is polling at 44 percent, Braun at 42 percent, Brenton at 4 percent, and the remaining 10 percent are undecided.

A polling average for the U.S. Senate election in Indiana weighted by age, methodological quality and sample size.

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