Will Trump Convince Hoosiers to Dump Donnelly?

President Trump travels to Indiana again today—his second visit to the Hoosier State in three days. The president is pushing hard to make sure Mike Braun, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, wins on Tuesday. If Braun snatches away this critical seat from the Democrats, he could help widen the GOP’s majority in the Senate (if Democrats don’t add any seats) and turn this already-red state even redder.

But there could be a bigger reason why Trump wants Braun in the Senate: the desire to have a fellow political novice and successful business owner on his side.

“I believe Trump showed you can come from outside the political farm system and gain the most powerful spot in the world,” Braun told me Thursday morning on his way to a campaign stop in South Bend. “More and more people will enter politics from the business world, bringing a new dynamic. We can get rid of career politicians, at least I hope that’s the case.”

Braun, 64, is taking on Democratic incumbent Senator Joe Donnelly, who is finishing his first term. The race is considered a toss-up; recent polls suggest it’s a dead heat—and an expensive one. Outside groups have spent nearly $65 million in Indiana since May, compared to $45 million on the state’s 2016 Senate race between Evan Bayh and incumbent Republican Todd Young.

A two-term state legislator, Braun is the founder and chief executive officer of Meyer Distributing, an automotive parts distributor with locations across the country. “There are some feisty entrepreneurs in Congress,” Braun said. “We need some in the Senate, too. I turned a little company into a national one, and if I win and Rick Scott wins and Mitt Romney wins, we will double the number of businessmen in the Senate.”

Trump lauded Braun’s business background during a campaign event in Indianapolis on Friday night, where the president was joined by legendary former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.  

“A very successful guy, did a great job and this is what he wants to do,” Trump told the crowd. “And I want to thank you for doing this because it’s not easy.” Trump won Indiana by nearly 20 points and he currently has a 50 percent approval rating in the state.

Health care and immigration are the top issues Braun is hearing about on the campaign trail. “People are worried about the cost of healthcare and, with the same level of intensity, the uncertainty about how to fix immigration,” he said. “Our party wants a wall and border security.”

Recent polls released this weekend show it’s not just Republicans who are worried about controlling illegal immigration: 59 percent of registered voters list border security as an important issue, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, and Republicans have a 10-point advantage over Democrats on who would best handle the issue.

Braun is portraying Donnelly as a D.C. partisan loyal to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Donnelly has opposed much of Trump’s agenda—including tax cuts and Obamacare reform—and voted against the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh after voting for Neil Gorsuch. The post-Kavanaugh debacle fueled the same kind of political uprising in Indiana that it did for Republicans across the country. “It was really a wake-up call for Republicans who were complacent. Over the past four or five weeks, we’ve taken a lead,” Braun said.

Like most candidates, Braun is concerned about the heated political climate as he considers leaving the civility of the Midwest for the derangement of the Swamp.

“We saw that ugly underbelly in the Kavanaugh proceedings, and they’ve tried to do that here. The money they’ve dumped here, the outright lies and distortions, being constantly followed by trackers and putting a camera in your face,” Braun said. “But I’m not going to let that deter me. If you’re on this stage and you still articulate what’s important to you, you can withstand the heat. But it’s a hot kitchen.”

Braun might also benefit from his opponent’s recent debate gaffe. In an effort to brandish his diversity cred, Donnelly bragged that his “state director is Indian American, but he does an amazing job. Our director of all constituent services, she’s African American, but she does an even more incredible job than you could ever imagine.” He later apologized for the clumsy comments, explaining that he misspoke and “meant to say ‘and’ instead of ‘but.’” (Is this a dumb political time or what?)

There are five toss-up Senate races in which Republican challengers have a chance to unseat incumbent Democrats on Tuesday. If Republicans run the table—and pick up the North Dakota senate seat as expected—while holding seats in Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee, then Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be very close to running a filibuster-proof Senate headed into the 2020 presidential election. That would allow Braun and his fellow entrepreneurs to really get down to business in Washington.

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Photo credit:  Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

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