GOP Poll: Donnelly in Position to Win in Indiana

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 15, 2018 · 10:25 AM EDT

After defeating a flawed candidate in 2012 and President Donald Trump winning Indiana in 2016 by nearly 20 points, Sen. Joe Donnelly is widely regarded as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the country. But don’t count him out yet, according to a new Republican poll.

Former state Rep. Mike Braun, the GOP nominee, led Donnelly, 50-42 percent in the 3rd Congressional District, according to a survey of 401 likely voters conducted May 29-31 by WPAi for GOP Rep. Jim Banks.

While that might not sound like good news for the senator, it’s remarkably similar to his marks in 2012, when he lost the 3rd District to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock 53-40 percent (according to Daily Kos Elections) but won statewide 50-44 percent. In 2016, former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh lost the 3rd 59-34 percent and lost statewide handily. But, in 2008, President Barack Obama received 43 percent in the Fort Wayne-anchored seat and won narrowly statewide.

Donnelly doesn’t need to win the Northeast Indiana district; he just needs to hold down his losses.

His bid for a second term could get more complicated if the White House chooses to get involved. President Trump’s personal rating in the Northeast Indiana district was 58 percent favorable compared to 40 percent unfavorable and Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana, stood even better at 61 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable.

It’s also possible the Braun still hasn’t consolidated the GOP base after a bitter May primary against Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, so he could improve on the ballot.

Switching to the race for the candidate who paid for the poll, Banks is running for re-election in the 3rd District against Democrat Courtney Tritch, and his general election quest will be more difficult this cycle than in 2016.

The congressman led Tritch 55-34 percent in the initial ballot test in the recent poll. Voters viewed Banks positively (52 percent favorable and 26 percent unfavorable), according to the poll, and he should benefit from the president’s popularity in a seat Trump won by 35 points in 2016.

But Tritch is a more credible nominee than the last Democrat to run against Banks.

Tritch is former vice president for marketing for Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and worked with the Fort Wayne Downtown Improvement District. She had relatively low name identification in the poll (20 percent favorable and 6 percent unfavorable) but wasn’t too far behind the incumbent in cash-on-hand on April 18 ($423,000 vs. $204,000).

After a competitive GOP primary, Banks won the 2016 open seat 70-23 percent against Democrat Tommy Schrader, a perennial candidate living at a motel who didn’t raise any money and was shunned by his own party. Schrader received 11 percent in this year’s Democratic primary, finishing second to Tritch (79 percent).

We rate the 3rd District race as Solid Republican and the Senate race as a Toss-up.