Why Braun Won

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Mike Braun has just been elected to be the next U.S. Senator for Indiana, defeating Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and defying what the polls suggested would be a narrow victory for the incumbent.

During a midterm, campaigning against the status quo is usually left to the opposition party. But with the popularity of President Donald Trump in Indiana, Donnelly attempted to tether himself with the president in policy areas such as immigration. It was thus left to former state legislator and businessman Mike Braun to take up the mantle of outsider in the 2018 U.S. Senate election.

“I’ve done things in the real world. This gentleman is a career politician,” Braun said of Donnelly during the first debate. “I’m a job creator and a political outsider.”

The Washington Post described Donnelly as the “accidental senator”, which is borne out by the 2012 exit polling for the U.S. Senate election in Indiana where Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) won his first term. In that poll, 46 percent said they would have voted for former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and 39 percent said they would have still voted for Donnelly.

Thus, Donnelly’s victory there was something of a fluke, more based on the weakness of his opponent State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R-Ind.), who defeated the popular Lugar in the Republican primary that year.

Donnelly attempted to compensate for the accidental nature of his senate win through attacking those to his left. The senator labelled plans to expand Medicare to all Americans as “socialized medicine” and promised that it’d only happen, “Over my dead body.”

That strategy did not appear to net Donnelly more support in the rural and suburban counties that traditionally vote for the Republicans, who voted for Braun in similar numbers to Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) during the 2016 Senate race in Indiana.

Even in the relatively neutral national conditions where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by more than two percent, former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) lost to current Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) by nearly 10 percent. Bayh had previously won the same Senate seat by over 24 points in 2004 and nearly 29 points in 1998.

Donnelly’s strategy to succeed where Bayh failed was to focus on health care. In a YouGov poll conducted in October, health care had a greater share of Hoosier votes deeming it important than any other issue, with 97 percent of those surveyed saying it was either very or somewhat important.

In both debates, Donnelly argued Braun wanted to take away coverage for pre-existing conditions because of his Republican opponent’s support of a lawsuit that would eliminate the ACA including its pre-existing conditions coverage if successful.

“Hoosiers, clearest difference: He won’t even denounce the lawsuit that will take away your coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Donnelly said at the first debate.

“I would never be for not covering pre-existing conditions,” Braun countered.

65 percent of Hoosier voters surveyed by YouGov said they believed Democrats would try to require insurance companies to cover them if they had pre-existing conditions.  In contrast, 51 percent of Hoosier voters surveyed believed that the Republicans would try to let insurance companies charge more or reject coverage for those who had pre-existing conditions.

In an October poll from SurveyUSA, Donnelly lead Braun by 38 percent among voters who named health care as the most important issue to their vote.

Donnelly repeatedly touted his support for the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m the person who cast the final vote to make sure your child with asthma can get their inhaler,” Donnelly said during the first debate.

With Braun’s victory, Republicans would now have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they keep the House.

Braun is a sure vote to repeal, saying in a letter to the Kokomo Tribune,“When I’m in the Senate, I’ll take action and keep pushing for the full repeal of Obamacare.”

Mike Braun will take office at the seating of the next Congress on Jan. 3, 2019.


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