Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly has jumped into the race for the Indiana seat in the U.S. Senate currently held by Republican Richard Lugar.
The three-term congressman from South Bend made the announcement Monday in a video posted to his campaign website. Donnelly says in the video he wants to continue the fight for American jobs in the Senate and speaks against what he calls Republican proposals to privatize Social Security and Medicare.
By entering the race, Donnelly — who also weighed a run for governor — gives national Democrats a recruiting victory for the 2012 campaign. No other Democrats have entered the race.
Lugar, a six-term incumbent, is facing a strong challenge from his right by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock for the Republican nomination.
Party activists believe the Senate seat will be a strong pickup opportunity if Lugar does not win his primary, though Republicans believe the seat will remain firmly in their grasp regardless.
Donnelly's supporters believe he can have a clear primary field, allowing him time to raise money and build campaign infrastructure while the prospective Republican nominees sully each other before the general election. Donnelly announced in April he'd raised more than $363,000—money that can be easily shifted to a 2012 Senate campaign fund.
Still, any Democrat running statewide in Indiana is likely to face a stiff headwind. After going for President Barack Obama in 2008, Indiana appeared to retrench to its more conservative roots in 2010, with two House seats flipping to Democrats, former Rep. Brad Ellsworth losing handily to GOP Sen. Dan Coats and Republicans picking up seats in the statehouse.
Democrats believe that won't matter if Lugar, an avuncular foreign policy wonk and former mayor of Indianapolis, is defeated by Mourdock. Tea Party activists have said they will target Lugar because they believe he is too moderate. Democrats hope that Donnelly, a self-styled moderate and member of the House's conservative Blue Dog caucus, will fare well in a general election and could defeat Mourdock.
Elected to Congress in 2006, Donnelly cruised to re-election in 2008 but escaped with a narrow victory in 2010, when Jackie Walorski, a Tea Party activist, ran against him. Under the redistricting plan proposed in Indiana, his current congressional district picked up more registered Republicans — a shift that likely made his decision to run for the Senate easier.
Born in New York, Donnelly moved to Indiana to attend Notre Dame. After graduating and then receiving his law degree from the university, Donnelly practiced law for 15 years before opening Marketing Solutions, a printing and rubber stamp company.
Donnelly's public service was limited before he won election to Congress. He served on the Indiana State Election Board from 1988 and as a member of Mishawka Marian High School board from 1997 to 2001. He twice sought other offices and lost — in 1988 he sought the Democratic nomination for state attorney general and in 2004 he lost in a bid to oust Republican Rep. Chris Chocola, who he beat two years later to win his seat.
Donnelly voted in favor of President Barack Obama's signature health care plan, but spent much of his 2010 campaign seeking to distance himself from national Democrats. In one ad, he referred derisively to the "Washington crowd" as an image of then Speaker Pelosi and President Obama flashed on the screen. Donnelly supports handgun rights and has previously won the support of the National Rifle Association in his races.
Donnelly lives in Granger, Ind., and is married with two children.