Democratic senator's rhetoric in Indiana bid resembles Trump

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly regularly channels President Donald Trump in the closing stretch of the midterm election by bashing socialists, ridiculing the "radical left" and calling for a border wall with Mexico.

But there's a catch: He isn't a Republican.

Donnelly is among a handful of Senate Democrats in such red states as Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia who are desperately trying to distance themselves from an ascendant left wing of the party that is fueled by opposition to Trump.

Unlike other vulnerable Democrats, however, Donnelly isn't trying to diffuse the situation with tempered or cautious language. In fact, he has adopted the same incendiary rhetoric that Republicans, including his businessman opponent Mike Braun, are using to fire up the GOP base.

RELATED: How every state voted in the 2016 election

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How every state voted in the 2016 election
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How every state voted in the 2016 election

Alabama

Donald Trump: 1,318,255 votes

Hillary Clinton: 729,547 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Alaska

Donald Trump: 163,387 votes

Hillary Clinton: 116,454 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Arkansas

Donald Trump: 684,872 votes

Hillary Clinton: 380,494 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Arizona

Donald Trump: 1,252,401 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,161,167 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Connecticut

Donald Trump: 673,315 votes

Hillary Clinton: 897,572 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

California

Donald Trump: 4,483,810 votes

Hillary Clinton: 8,753,788 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Alaska

Donald Trump: 163,387 votes

Hillary Clinton: 116,454 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Colorado

Donald Trump: 1,202,484 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,338,870 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Delaware

Donald Trump: 185,127 votes

Hillary Clinton: 235,603 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Florida

Donald Trump: 4,617,886 votes

Hillary Clinton: 4,504,975 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Georgia

Donald Trump: 2,089,104 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,877,963 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Hawaii

Donald Trump: 128,847 votes

Hillary Clinton: 266,891 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Iowa

Donald Trump: 800,983 votes

Hillary Clinton: 653,669 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Illinois

Donald Trump: 2,146,015 votes

Hillary Clinton: 3,090,729 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Idaho

Donald Trump: 409,055 votes

Hillary Clinton: 189,765 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Indiana

Donald Trump: 1,557,286 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,033,126 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Kansas

Donald Trump: 671,018 votes

Hillary Clinton: 427,005 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Kentucky

Donald Trump: 1,202,971 votes

Hillary Clinton: 628,854 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Louisiana

Donald Trump: 1,178,638 votes

Hillary Clinton: 780,154 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Maine

Donald Trump: 335,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 357,735 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Massachusetts

Donald Trump: 1,090,893 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,995,196 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Michigan

Donald Trump: 2,279,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,268,839 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Minnesota

Donald Trump: 1,323,232 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,367,825 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Mississippi

Donald Trump: 700,714 votes

Hillary Clinton: 485,131 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Missouri

Donald Trump: 1,594,511 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,071,068 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Montana

Donald Trump: 279,240 votes

Hillary Clinton: 177,709 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Nebraska

Donald Trump: 495,961 votes

Hillary Clinton: 284,494 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Nevada

Donald Trump: 512,058 votes

Hillary Clinton: 539,260 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Hampshire

Donald Trump: 345,790 votes

Hillary Clinton: 348,526 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Jersey

Donald Trump: 1,601,933 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,148,278 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Mexico

Donald Trump: 319,667 votes

Hillary Clinton: 385,234 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New York

Donald Trump: 2,819,534 votes

Hillary Clinton: 4,556,124 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

North Dakota

Donald Trump: 216,794 votes

Hillary Clinton: 93,758 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Ohio

Donald Trump: 2,841,005 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,394,164 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Oklahoma

Donald Trump: 949,136 votes

Hillary Clinton: 420,375 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Oregon

Donald Trump: 782,403 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,002,106 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Pennsylvania

Donald Trump: 2,970,733 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,926,441 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Rhode Island

Donald Trump: 180,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 252,525 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

South Carolina

Donald Trump: 1,155,389 votes

Hillary Clinton: 855,373 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

South Dakota

Donald Trump: 227,721 votes

Hillary Clinton: 117,458 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Tennessee

Donald Trump: 1,522,925 votes

Hillary Clinton: 870,695 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Texas

Donald Trump: 4,685,047 votes

Hillary Clinton: 3,877,865 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Utah

Donald Trump: 515,231 votes

Hillary Clinton: 310,676 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Vermont

Donald Trump: 95,259 votes

Hillary Clinton: 178,573 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Virginia

Donald Trump: 1,769,443 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,981,473 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Washington

Donald Trump: 1,221,747 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,742,718 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

West Virginia

Donald Trump: 489,371 votes

Hillary Clinton: 188,794 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Wisconsin

Donald Trump: 1,405,284 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,382,536 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Wyoming

Donald Trump: 174,419 votes

Hillary Clinton: 55,973 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

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"If you drop somebody in Indiana who didn't know anything about the race, turn the television on and ask them to figure out who was the Democrat and who was the Republican — they couldn't do it," said Mike O'Brien, a Republican strategist who ran Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's winning campaign. "He's way over the line from where any self-respecting Democrat would want him to be."

For Donnelly, it's a calculated risk that may very well pay off in a state Trump carried by nearly 20 points two years ago. But in the high-stakes contest with Braun, a seat Democrats know they must hold to retain any chance of winning control of the Senate, it also could backfire by alienating members of his base.

In recent ads, Donnelly has accused "socialists" of wanting "to turn health care over to the government" and derided a "radical left" that wants to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also called out party activists who have jeered Republicans dining out at restaurants.

"The attacks and disrespect are so out of control," Donnelly said in an ad released Friday, where he is standing in the middle of a restaurant brawl. He goes on to call for Congress to "build a wall."

Braun says Donnelly "talks a good game" but is only masquerading as a conservative while voting against confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and some of Trump's pet issues, such as the GOP-led tax cut and an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"You got to be willing to buck your party boss," Braun said at a recent debate where he accused Donnelly of falling in-line with the wishes of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, "who tells (Donnelly) what to do on all the important legislation."

Donnelly's campaign argues the senator has always played it "down the Hoosier common-sense middle" and has equal distaste for the extreme ends of both political parties. They concede, though, that he has sharpened the language in his closing pitch to voters.

"Joe Donnelly's message has been consistent: he's the hired help for Indiana," campaign spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz said. "He puts commonsense Hoosiers before any politician or political party."

Democrats say Donnelly may have taken a right turn in his rhetoric, but they add that anyone wavering should consider that Braun has campaigned as someone who will be a consistent ally of Trump.

"Almost every Democrat understands the stakes in this election and understands that voting for Mike Braun — or not voting at all — is giving Donald Trump vast, unchecked power," said Kip Tew, who was chairman of former President Barack Obama's winning 2008 general election campaign in Indiana. "That's the dividing line people have to look at here."

Donnelly's full-throated embrace of culture war issues favored by Trump is perhaps a logical conclusion in a race where policy debates have been supercharged by the president's words and actions. But it is also unusual for the senator, whose public persona is usually that of understated Midwestern politeness.

Then there's health care. After years of Democrats running away from what had been a toxic issue at the polls, Donnelly boasts that he cast the "deciding vote" to save Obama's signature health care law — the same wording the GOP formerly used in attack ads.

He has gone after Braun for supporting a Republican-led lawsuit aimed at eliminating the law, including coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

"Mike, I can hardly believe that you can stand here and tell everybody you are for coverage of pre-existing conditions," Donnelly said at the debate. "Stand here tonight and tell us you'll denounce that lawsuit."

As the Nov. 6 vote looms, it remains to be seen whether Donnelly's pro-Trump right turn will be a factor.

O'Brien, the GOP operative, said it is unimaginable to think of a Republican running in a blue state supporting a similarly divisive figure.

"Can you imagine someone campaigning on their support for (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi?" he said. "It's bizarro world."

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