FISHERS — Senator-elect Joe Donnelly sounded like he was still in campaign mode the day after his election.
Rep. Donnelly, D-2nd, stuck to his bipartisan mantra during a Wednesday news conference at a Hamilton County restaurant.
“This is about everyone in our state,” Donnelly told reporters. “This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. I’m going there to represent Indiana and to represent the hopes and dreams of everyone.
“I want to be a senator for everyone, and that’s what our tradition has been. Richard Lugar. Evan Bayh,” he said.
Donnelly on Tuesday defeated Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock to replace six-term incumbent Lugar, whom Mourdock ousted in the GOP primary election.
Bayh, a former Democratic senator and governor, stumped for Donnelly the last two days of the campaign.
Aside from Bayh and his father, Birch Bayh, Donnelly becomes the first Hoosier Democrat elected to the Senate since incumbent Vance Hartke in 1970. Indiana Republicans have combined to serve 56 out of 72 term years since Lugar unseated Hartke in 1976.
Donnelly received about 50 percent of the vote Tuesday to Mourdock’s roughly 44 percent and Libertarian Andrew Horning’s nearly 6 percent.
Asked how much of an effect Mourdock’s comment at an Oct. 23 debate – that pregnancy resulting from rape “is something that God intended to happen” – had on the outcome of the election, Donnelly replied: “I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not smart enough to figure that out.”
Mourdock’s remark “was significant as far as the manner in which the opposition packaged it. It was a bases-loaded home run for negative advertising,” said Steve Shine, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party. “One can’t survive that.”
The combination of campaign ads and news media reports on Mourdock’s comment “creates such a negative firestorm that you cannot recover,” Shine said. “You cannot recover on something that makes ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ and David Letterman and Jay Leno.”
The national attention “creates doubt” among voters, he said.
IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf said Mourdock “never really built a substantial lead” after his primary victory over Lugar. “So when you have a selfinflicted controversy that close to the election, you don’t leave yourself any time to overcome it.”
The remark reinforced Mourdock’s self-made reputation as someone unwilling to compromise with political foes, Wolf said.
“When the gaffe fits the narrative of your campaign, you can’t undo it,” he said.
Mourdock still carried 63 of Indiana’s 92 counties, including all of northeast Indiana.
But Donnelly won where it counted: the state’s most populous counties.
He collected 64 percent of the vote in Marion County and beat Mourdock in the Republican candidate’s home of Vanderburgh County. Donnelly also topped Mourdock in Delaware, Jefferson, Lake, LaPorte, Madison, Monroe, Porter, Tippecanoe and Vigo counties and in Donnelly’s home of St. Joseph County.
Even though Mourdock led in Allen County, he received a hair less than 50 percent of the vote. He had attracted 69.7 percent of Allen County Republican ballots in his primary-election race against Lugar in May.
At his Wednesday news conference, Donnelly, a House member since 2007, said keeping combat jets at Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base is “a perfect example” of how he and Republican lawmakers from Indiana have worked together and will continue to do so. The Air Force this year proposed a sweeping realignment of Guard bases as part of a cost-cutting move, a plan that Congress put on hold.
Donnelly said he hopes that he and Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., “can have the same kind of teamwork approach that Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh always had” in the Senate.
Donnelly called Lugar “a good guidepost” for being a senator.
“Those shoes can’t be filled. All I can do is do my best,” he said.
As for his goals, “I am going to remain first and foremost focused like a laser on jobs,” Donnelly said, citing his support for education, domestic energy production, reducing the national debt, improving infrastructure and trying to ensure that China follows fair-trade standards.
Donnelly introduced himself to diners at The Roost restaurant in Fishers before speaking to reporters and having breakfast with campaign aides. A Mourdock campaign sign stood in front of a nearby retail center.
Restaurant employee Ross Boyer said Donnelly’s visit “surprised us.” Asked about customers’ responses, Boyer said: “A couple wanted to see him. A couple were a little angry. We try to play it right down the middle.”