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Uncertainty turns to heartbreak as Donnelly loses Senate election


Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, speaks to media outlets Nov. 6 in the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis during a watch party.  Ty Vinson

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Democrats showed up to the party’s watch party in downtown Indianapolis early Tuesday evening with cautious optimism about the Indiana’s Senate race. Some left in tears.

Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly delivered his concession speech just before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency. The senator, unseated by Republican businessman and former state legislator Mike Braun, expressed his gratefulness for his campaign staff in his remarks.

“I’ve been filled up so much more by you and you’ve given me so much, and I’m so grateful to all of you,” Donnelly said. “And please know this: If there’s ever anything I can ever do for you, count on me because of this. We love this country so much, we need to make sure we work to bring our country together rather than divide it.”

Donnelly had expressed optimism about the night ahead while speaking to reporters earlier in the night. As polls closed and precincts across the state began reporting vote tallies, the mood in the room began to move toward somberness and uncertainty. 

People react after MSNBC projects Sen. Joe Donnelly’s loss to Republican Mike Braun in the 2018 U.S. Senate race Nov. 6 in Indianapolis.  Ty Vinson

His loss came on the heels of tough campaigning from both sides of the aisle in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country. The vote count sat at 52.6 percent for Braun and 43.4 percent for Donnelly at 10:55 p.m., according to the New York Times.

In the week leading up to the election, President Trump visited the state twice to stump for Braun. Former President Obama visited once, speaking in Gary, Indiana, where some of Donnelly’s strongest 2012 numbers originated. 

Donnelly made stops in six cities across the state the day before, including one in Rochester, Indiana. Rochester was the location of a automobile crash which killed three children a week before Election Day. It is also in the 2nd District, which the senator represented when he served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It’s close to home for Joe, so we wanted to make a stop there,” campaign press secretary Kate Oehl said. 

Election Day morning, Donnelly spoke to a Northwest Indiana-based radio station before making his way down to Indianapolis, where he ate at Kountry Kitchen. Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett and U.S. Rep. André Carson, D-7th District, joined him there.

After those stops, Donnelly returned to the Hyatt Regency to prepare for the night ahead.

In the hour before Donnelly conceded, the mood in the room shifted. At 8:40 p.m., Indianapolis resident Julian Winborn said he was cautiously optimistic about the outcome. 

Winborn said the difference between this year and 2016 was that he was more adamant about getting his friends to vote.

Margaret and Don Banning, also of Indianapolis, spent the morning getting out the vote as team captains for the Democratic Party. Margaret Banning said she had many progressive friends who were open to donating to Democratic causes, but this year, she told them it was about more than opening up their checkbook. 

“When it comes down to winning elections, it’s about who gets the vote out,” she said.

Before Donnelly delivered his concession remarks, Carson — who won re-election Tuesday — gave his victory speech. In his remarks, he addressed Donnelly’s loss. 

“You will never outwork Joe Donnelly. We love Joe,” Carson said. “They threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Joe Donnelly, and he did not move.”

He added that the crowd would be hearing from Donnelly again, leaving open the possibility of the senator making a reappearance in Indiana politics.

“God bless you,” Donnelly said at the end of his remarks. “Thanks for letting me be your senator.”

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