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Democrats Hope Baron Hill Can Follow Donnelly's Path to the Senate

Donnelly won in Indiana by 6 points in 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Indiana Rep. Baron P. Hill's road to the Senate won't be any easy one, but Democrats think they have a roadmap to get him there.  

Although Hill declared his candidacy in mid-May , in the middle of the 2nd quarter, he raised just $151,000 with $143,000 in the bank. That included a $2,700 donation from Indiana native son singer John Mellencamp. Meanwhile, Rep. Todd Young, one of three Republicans in the race, posted a $1 million haul in the 2nd quarter, before even declaring his Senate candidacy .  

It's the latest sign that Hill has an uphill climb to win statewide. He first ran for Senate in a special election in 1990, losing to Sen. Dan Coats by 7 points. Elected to Congress in 1998, he was narrowly defeated in 2004, then won his 9th District seat back in 2006, before losing again four years later.  

So far, Hill's the only Democrat in the race. Former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who's sitting on $10 million in campaign cash , has said he won't run. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee doesn't know "if the field has settled," said spokesman Justin Barasky, but they are confident in Hill's ability to win tough campaigns.  

The odds aren't in his favor. Although President Barack Obama put Indiana in play in 2008, capturing 50 percent of the vote, Mitt Romney went on to carry it by more than 10 points in 2012. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the Senate race Favored Republican .  

And yet, Democrats are optimistic that they can pick up another Senate seat in the Hoosier State, and they’re looking to 2012, when Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly won, to make that happen.  

“We are really kind of trying to follow the Donnelly roadmap for this race,” said a Democratic operative working in Indiana politics. Especially, Barasky added, since there's another GOP primary in a presidential year — "that has spelled disaster for them in the past."  

Democrats' 2012 hopes began with then-state Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeating six-term Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the GOP primary. Their path to victory widened after Mourdock's controversial rape comments .  

Although Democrats are hoping the most conservative Republican in this race, tea party-backed Rep. Marlin Stutzman, wins the GOP nomination, they're not waiting for him to repeat Mourdock's mistakes. Sources from both parties agree that Stutzman is no Mourdock. The 3rd District Congressman has hired an experienced and well-respected team. "I don’t think there has to be a big moment for Democrats to win," said Paul Tencher, Donnelly's 2012 campaign manager. Democratic candidates just "have to be very unpolished [and] genuine."  

Democrats are banking on Hoosier general election voters endorsing the kind of bipartisanship Lugar was known for. Donnelly, who made “Hoosier common sense” his slogan in his TV ads , succeeded at appealing to enough of the state's suburban pro-business Republicans.  

This year, those same fiscally conservative and socially moderate voters "are up for grabs for a Democrat to run statewide," said Dan Parker, former state party chair and state director for Bayh.  

"These are the voters that turned on Pence," Parker added, referring to the backlash against GOP Gov. Mike Pence's signing of a "religious freedom" bill  earlier this year.  

Democrats say that Hill, who became a lobbyist after leaving government, should convey that same Hoosier common sense image that Donnelly did to win crossover voters. During his five non-consecutive terms in Congress, Hill was a member of the more conservative Blue Dog coalition of Democrats. But he also voted for the Affordable Care Act, economic stimulus and cap and trade, which Young seized on to defeat him in 2010.  

"Don’t vote for taxes and don’t talk about social issues, and you can win as a Democrat," Tencher said.  

Hoosier voters "need a permission slip to vote for a Democrat," Tencher added. "We kept giving people permission to make that vote."  

Donnelly has voted with his party 76 percent of time he’s been in the Senate, compared to 94 percent of time for the average Senate Democrat, according to CQ’s Vote Watch . “Donnelly is viewed in D.C. as being a conservative Democrat. [But] Joe fits right in the mainstream of the Hoosier electorate,” Parker said.  

“Hill is right there as well,” Parker added. “It’s just a matter of being able to tell people that.”  

Related:

Ousted Democrat Announces Indiana Senate Bid
Coats Retirement Sparks Hoosier State Free-for-All

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