Importantville: Post-Midterm Hot Takes

This week’s rundown of Indiana politics.

Illustration by Kris Davidson

Welcome to Importantville. Happy belated Veterans Day. Thank you for your service—and for protecting our First Amendment rights and our nation.

Days to 2020: 722

Days to Mayoral Election: 358

Beneath the steaming pile of hot takes about Indiana’s Senate race, it’s worth noting that Sen. Joe Donnelly’s margin of defeat will likely narrow to fewer than six points, or about 100,000 votes. That’s, obviously, a lot. But his campaign hit all of their internal targets, including a 100,000-vote margin in Marion County and a 50,000-vote margin in Lake County. Donnelly got nearly 45 percent of the vote in both Allen and Hamilton Counties—traditionally, the most-populous Republican counties in the state. The problem came in more than 60 counties where Donnelly got 25-35 percent of the vote, the math just doesn’t work. “We have to find a way to talk to those people to win statewide,” Peter Hanscom, Donnelly’s campaign manager, tells me.

There’s sort of an inside-I-465 bias that a lot of subscribers to this newsletter have. Indiana is still Trump Country. “I will contend until the day I die that the vast majority of Joe’s critics on the left have never reconciled themselves to the fact that Indiana is bigger than just where they live,” Joel Elliott, Donnelly’s chief of staff, tells me. “It’s sort of the political corollary to the geographic point I make all the time to people in DC who are unfamiliar with the state: Indiana is a big state. Big enough that a whole lot of people don’t live where those critics live and therefore almost certainly don’t see the world the way they do. And there is no precedent for Democratic electoral success in Indiana, at least not that I’m aware of, that writes off everyone except for the people who live in places like you do.”

Republicans, meanwhile, took advantage of Donnelly’s low-key approach. “When you look at this race, from 2012 to now, Senator Donnelly didn’t really have a brand. He was the kind of senator where he kept his head down, worked hard, didn’t say much,” RNC Spokesperson Michael Joyce says. “But when you look across the country, at someone like Ted Cruz, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, they all have a brand. You look at Senator Todd Young, he’s known as a Marine. You look at Senator Donnelly, we were able to define his brand for the entire campaign.”

HANSCOM EXIT INTERVIEW: The people who say that Donnelly didn’t turn out his base? “They’re wrong,” Hanscom says. “This election was more of a referendum on Donald Trump more than it was a referendum on Joe Donnelly.”

Hanscom on Donnelly’s last few controversial ads: “If they didn’t run, there’s a chance Joe would’ve lost by more. The Hoosier electorate is looking for someone, I still believe, who is willing to work with both parties … Donald Trump won this state by 19.5 points. This isn’t coming from a place where either Joe Donnelly or myself are looking for a participation trophy or to be given a pat on the back … but it’s the reality of where we live. If you don’t have a targeted brand to adjust that vote deficit that you start out with on day one, you’re not going to win.”

On getting out of political campaigns: Hanscom had planned for months for this to be his last political campaign. “I’m getting older, and I have a family. I don’t make the decision in a way that comes from ‘I lost, I’m going to take my ball and go home.’” The division and the nastiness, Hanscom says, isn’t something he wants in his life. During the campaign, a troll doxed his cell phone number, and he had to disable his voicemail and Facebook account. “I don’t want my stepping out of this role to be viewed as giving up in any type of way … The politics of our time, it’s not just as nasty as you see on TV. It’s real. These are people’s lives, and worse so than for anyone than the candidate. I can’t imagine being a candidate—and by the way, this is not just for Joe Donnelly—I can’t imagine the things that people were saying and doing about Mike Braun.”

On how outsourcing ruined the quality of the campaign: “The race very quickly devolved into this ridiculous outsourcing plane. Unfortunately, because of the world we live in, it became: ‘Both candidates have an outsourcing problem,’ rather than one candidate had stock in his brother’s company that he sold, valued at $17,000 that he donated to charity, while another candidate has a company that literally manufactures its own products in China and laid off American workers and made $18 million last year. There was this false equivalency.”

WHERE’S VEEP? In Kantei, Tokyo, Japan, where he participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan.

FROM LAST NIGHT’S POOL REPORT: “Air Force Two touched down at 3:32 p.m. local time in Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where it’s 34 degrees and drizzly. About an hour into the flight, Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence came to the back of the plane and spoke to the press pool off record. Flight was otherwise uneventful. When kickoff hour arrived, TVs aboard the former Indiana governor’s plane flipped from Fox News to the Indianapolis Colts game. During our layover, Mr. Pence will meet with veterans, active troops and their families, the VP’s office says. The first leg of the trip is complete. We’re expected to spend a total of 56 hours in the air as we make our way across the Pacific and back. Among the officials aboard the plane is Matt Pottinger, the National Security Council’s Asia director.”


Perry Bacon, Jr., New York Times: Who’s Behaving Like A 2020 Presidential Candidate

Sen. Cory Booker went to Iowa. Michael Bloomberg re-registered as a Democrat after years as an independent. Former Secretary of State John Kerry would not rule out another presidential run, even though it’s very unlikely he will actually pull the trigger. And that’s just the 2020 campaign activity that made the news this week.

The 2020 Democratic presidential primary started the day after the 2016 election—let’s not pretend otherwise. But we’re hitting a new phase of the campaign: the last few weeks of the midterms, when prospective presidential candidates campaign across the country, officially in support of other politicians, but unofficially to build their own brands. And right after the midterms, I would expect a few Democrats to formally announce that they are running in 2020, others to start hiring staff and taking other concrete steps toward a run without quite fully jumping in, and a third bloc to bow out before they have to pretend to enjoy spending the winter in Iowa and New Hampshire

BOXES SOUTH BEND MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG CHECKS: “Visited Iowa,” Visited South Carolina,” “Book,” “Campaigned.”

Brent D. Griffiths, Politico: 2020 presidential candidates who could take on Trump

Who is running for president? Potential 2020 presidential candidates have been lining up to take on Donald Trump and the GOP, creating one of the most crowded fields in memory. It’s a group packed with traditional politicians, firebrand Trump foes and celebrities who have never held elected office.

We’ve categorized the possible Democratic presidential candidates into six groups: The Senators list carries Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. The House Members include Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Kennedy, and Beto O’Rourke. The Governors list is anchored by Andrew Cuomo and Deval Patrick. The most well known of The Mayors is Michael Bloomberg. The Obama Alums include Joe Biden, Eric Holder, and others as potential 2020 presidential candidates. Finally, The Outsiders like Michael Avenatti and Oprah could reshape the road to 2020.

THE SCOUTING REPORT ON BUTTIGIEG: “What he’s known for: He’s been positioned as a leader among the next generation of Democrats—openly gay, millennial, and Afghanistan veteran. 2020 status: He stumped in South Carolina and had a 2017 stop in Iowa. He was one of just a handful of people on this list to secretly meet with President Barack Obama and boosted his profile during his run for DNC chair. But unlike other mayors on this list, he doesn’t have a long list of other elected experience nor has he led a major city.”