INDIANAPOLIS (Howey Politics) – For months now we’ve scanned the horizon for the so-called “blue wave,” a response from voters in November’s midterm elections for what President Trump has vowed to make a referendum on himself.
Speaking with Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Banks a couple weeks ago, he called such a wave “fictitious,” believing that the GOP majorities will hold in Congress and across the state.
There were precursors to such a tsunami. In an era where some two dozen women had made sexual harassment allegations against the president, the wrenching immigrant child separations from their parents at the border, the prospect of the overturning of Roe. v. Wade where an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll showed 70 percent supporting the decision (including 52 percent of Republicans), we watched 57 women file for Indiana General Assembly seats.
In Congressional races, in addition to Republican U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski and Susan Brooks, Democrats Courtney Tritch in the 3rd Congressional District, Tobi Beck in the 4th, Dee Thornton in the 5th, Jeannine Lee Lake in the 6th CD and Liz Watson in the 9th all won nominations, making for a record six women running.
Now with the release of the NBC/Marist Poll in the U.S. Senate race, we’ve learned that Sen. Joe Donnelly has a 44-41 percent lead over Republican Mike Braun, with Libertarian Lucy Brenton coming in at 8 percent. For a historical perspective, in Donnelly’s race against Republican Richard Mourdock in 2012, a Sept. 27 Howey Politics/DePauw Poll had Donnelly up 40-38 percent in a race in which many perceived him as a distinct underdog.
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The other headline out of this week’s NBC/Marist Poll is that President Trump’s approval in Indiana stood at 48 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable. Those numbers are much better than they are nationally for the president (43 percent in an Economist/YouGov poll and 42 percent in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, both released on Wednesday), but he won Indiana in 2016 with 57 percent and had a 19 percent plurality. Republicans have persistently said that Trump has remained as popular as he was in 2016. But this is the third poll that has put Trump’s approval under 50 percent here in Indiana. A January Morning Consult Poll had Trump’s approve/disapprove at 48/47 percent.
What’s fueling Donnelly’s lead? Look no further than female voters. He leads Braun by 16 percent with women. That compares with the 12 percent edge Donnelly had over Mourdock in the final 2012 tally. Donnelly has a 51-45 percent edge with white, college-educated voters.
Donnelly leads with independent voters, getting 59 percent of their support, and has 65 percent of the suburban vote, which should be very alarming to Republicans up and down the ballot. In analysis after analysis, the key voting bloc in the midterm elections has been the white suburban female. The sample that was taken on Aug. 26-29 (before Braun appeared with Trump in Evansville on Aug. 30) and included 38 percent Republican, 32 percent independent and 29 percent Democrat. That’s a slightly top-heavy sampling of Republicans.
When it comes to issues, 26 percent name “jobs and the economy” as the top concern, 23 percent cite health care and 14 percent say immigration. What’s curious about that data set is that Indiana has a historic low 3.4 percent jobless rate in July, suggesting that President Trump’s tariffs, which have created much anxiety in the agriculture and manufacturing sector, are thus impacting voters.
NBC/Marist pollsters note: “One policy of the president’s that is not particularly popular in the state is his move to raise tariffs and trade barriers on imports from abroad. Four in 10 Indiana registered voters believe the tariffs will hurt the economy, while just 28 percent say they will help the economy. Only half of Republicans, 48 percent, say definitively that the moves will help the economy, with an additional 18 percent saying they will hurt and 24 percent saying they will have little impact.”
That’s why we’ve consistently heard from one of the more vulnerable Republicans - Rep. Walorski - who has expressed frustrations with the Trump tariffs, which are hammering soybean farmers and manufacturers using steel and aluminum. The soy prices are diving and the metals are increasing.
Is Donnelly a cinch for a second term?
No. He didn’t clinch his upset win over Mourdock until late October 2012 when the Republican made an epic blunder on the abortion issue during their final debate, paving the way for Donnelly to with the race with a 7 percent plurality. Braun is far more disciplined. And Donnelly faces a headline vote on whether to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, a nomination most Hoosiers support.
There will be tens of millions more dollars spent on this race in the coming two months. I still list the Donnelly/Braun matchup as a “pure tossup.”
But with all the volatility coming out of the Trump White House these days, Donnelly has to like where he stands. Stay tuned.