Rep. Joe Donnelly (D)
Indiana 2nd District
When the University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842, Catholics were still a rarity in most of America and certainly rare on the limestone-bottomed plains of northern Indiana. This was still farm country and South Bend no more than a crossroads on the St. Joseph River. But by the 1920s, both the school and the town had grown. Notre Dame, thanks to its football team, the Fighting Irish, was the most famous Catholic university in the land, and South Bend was a significant industrial city, home of Studebaker and Bendix and dozens of other factories. In the past 50 years, Notre Dame has grown in size and reputation, but South Bend, like many Rust Belt cities, diminished in size and reputation. In the 1960s, Studebaker went out of business. In the early 1980s, there were massive factory layoffs, and in the early 1990s, there were well-publicized layoffs in nearby Elkhart. But these high-visibility job losses were accompanied by the much less visible creation of jobs in small factories throughout the region. The work in those facilities required more skill than did the old assembly lines, and the products had to be more responsive to just-in-time prime contractors or computer-inventory retailers. In the late 1990s, many employers had trouble filling job openings, and the economic base was more secure than when it depended on the fate of two or three big companies. Notre Dame recently acquired the Midwestern Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, which in conjunction with other topflight colleges in the country, is doing research into the building blocks of the next generation of computers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Indiana is centered on South Bend, which for three decades has seen plenty of close congressional contests. This is an industrial and ethnic city, with one of the nation’s largest percentage of Hungarian-Americans, plus a growing community of Mexican-Americans. It is strongly Democratic, as is LaPorte County around Michigan City. Also in the district is Kokomo, which has been trying to grow as an auto manufacturing center with plans for a new Chrysler plant. Those plans were jeopardized by the 2008 financial crisis in the domestic automobile market.
Elkhart County to the east is heavily Republican and conservative. There was a six-foot Ten Commandments monument in front of Elkhart City Hall until a 2005 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union led to its removal. The 2nd District also includes several counties on the limestone plains to the south down past the Wabash River. This is an area rural in appearance but with much small manufacturing; politically, it has been part of the Republican heartland since the party was created in the 1850s. Indiana Democrats in 2002 drew the lines of the 2nd to maximize their chance to hold it by excluding much of heavily Republican Elkhart County, by including Democratic Michigan City, and by adding the industrial town of Kokomo at its southern edge. But it took four years to elect a Democrat, in 2006. In recent presidential contests, George W. Bush won the 2nd District with 53% in 2000 and 56% in 2004. Barack Obama won it with 54%.
Rep. Joe Donnelly (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Sept. 29, 1955, Massapequa, NY .
Education: U. of Notre Dame, B.A. 1977, J.D. 1981.
Family: Married (Jill); 2 children.
Elected office: Mishawaka Marian High School Board, 1997-2001.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1981-96; Owner, Marking Solutions, 1996-2006.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Joe Donnelly, a Democrat first elected in 2006. Donnelly was born in Massapequa, New York, and grew up on Long Island’s South Shore. He attended the University of Notre Dame, earning an undergraduate degree in government and a law degree in 1981. He practiced law in the area until 1996, when he opened Marking Solutions, a printing and rubber stamp company. Donnelly served on the state election board in 1988 and 1989, but his early bids for public office were disappointing to say the least. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general in 1988, failed in a bid for the state Senate in 1990, and then lost his first attempt at a seat in Congress in 2004. However, he at least came in close in the latter contest, holding Republican Rep. Chris Chocola to 54% to his 45%. Donnelly compared himself to popular former Democratic Rep. Tim Roemer and said he would be more independent of his party than Chocola. But Donnelly raised less than half as much money as Jill Long Thompson, the 2002 Democratic nominee for the seat, and national Democrats made the race a low priority.
|Joe Donnelly (D)||187,416||(67%)||($1,599,268)|
|Luke Puckett (R)||84,455||(30%)||($286,350)|
|Mark Vogel (Lib)||7,475||(3%)|
|Joe Donnelly (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (54%)
The year 2006 was much more difficult for Republicans like Chocola nationally, and he had some problems at home as well. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’s move to daylight saving time and the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road, which runs through the district, proved unpopular. The liberal group MoveOn.org identified Chocola as an early target and ran negative television ads. This time, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took a much greater interest in the race by installing a campaign manager for Donnelly and by elevating the race to its “Red to Blue” program. Republicans too recognized the seriousness of Chocola’s predicament. President Bush’s first 2006 campaign visit for a House candidate was for Chocola, who collected about $650,000 from the appearance. So Donnelly made Bush’s handling of the Iraq war an issue in his campaign. Chocola again outspent Donnelly by more than 2-to-1, but it seemed it was finally Donnelly’s year to win an election. He beat Chocola 54%-46%, carrying five of the district’s 12 counties. Donnelly increased his margin in South Bend’s St. Joseph County from 621 votes in 2004 to more than 12,700 in 2006.
In the House, Donnelly has a centrist voting record. An opponent of abortion rights and expanding federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, Donnelly urged Democratic leaders to advance a moderate agenda in Congress. He also joined the Blue Dogs, a group of conservative and centrist Democrats. In the meantime, he went his own way on some issues, and was among 12 Democrats to vote against the budget in 2007.
He has focused on veterans’ issues, working with Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., to expedite veterans’ claims, and he took some credit for helping add $6.6 billion to veterans spending in 2007. On the Financial Services Committee, he backed the fall 2008 bailouts for the financial markets and big automobile companies. On the housing bill in 2007, he added a provision to raise loan limits for manufactured housing, which has a strong presence in Indiana.
Donnelly had an unexpectedly easy re-election campaign in 2008, after Republicans failed to recruit a strong challenger. Against Elkhart County businessman Luke Puckett, Donnelly won 67%-30% and took all 12 counties.