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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

September 24, 2018

Better Know A Senate Race: Indiana, Tennessee, Nevada, and Arizona Edition

National / Elections / Midterm

Map highlighting Indiana, Tennessee, Nevada and Arizona


In Indiana’s Senate race, incumbent Joe Donnelly (D) faces former state Rep. Mike Braun in the 2018 midterm elections. Sen. Joe Donnelly was first elected to the Indiana Senate seat in 2012.  Previously, Donnelly represented the 2nd congressional district of Indiana in the House of Representatives from 2006 to 2012. Throughout his time in Senate, much of Donnelly’s work focused on improving military mental health, combating the opioid epidemic, and enhancing veteran benefits and military strength. Mike Braun served as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 2014 to 2017, representing Indiana’s 63rd district. Braun is also the founder and CEO of Meyer Distributing, an auto parts distributing company. During Indiana’s Republican primary election, Braun won by 41.17%, defeating two opponents. Donnelly ran unopposed in the Democratic primary election.

Messaging around both campaigns has been centrist thus far, with Donnelly advocating his support of a border wall and Braun endorsing protections for pre-existing conditions. In a state that President Trump carried by nearly 19 points in 2016, both candidates have continually stressed their connections to Trump. As seen on his website and social media accounts, Donnelly has continually emphasized his bipartisan tendencies and willingness to work with the President.

Donnelly’s campaign recently received criticism from President Trump on voting records; however, the campaign responded by citing a study from Congressional Quarterly proving that Donnelly voted in line with the President 62% of the time. Furthermore, the study showed that Donnelly had 22 proposals signed into law by Trump. “He’s always willing to work with any president who has a good idea to help Hoosiers, but he’s never been, and never will be a rubber stamp for ideas from any administration that are wrong for Indiana,” said Donnelly’s campaign manager Peter Hanscom.

Since the primaries, Braun has tied parallels to himself and President Trump through his history as an experienced “conservative businessman” and his potential to be another political outsider in Washington. On the healthcare issue, Braun explained that while he wants to repeal Obamacare, he does not want to end protections for pre-existing conditions, showing that he is not afraid to speak up where “you don’t hear much conservative talk.”

Both candidates have been successful in their fundraising efforts, with Donelly currently leading over Braun by about $3 million. As reported by the Federal Election Commission, Donnelly had raised $11,546,044, while Braun had raised $8,451,782. Voters can expect these figures to rise significantly as the race picks up and garners more national attention.

The Wason Center currently rates this race as Lean Democrat.


Republican Sen. Bob Corker recently announced his retirement, meaning Tennessee will see two new candidates running for the Senatorial seat. Competing for the open seat are former Governor Phil Bredesen (D) and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R). Gov. Bredesen has high name recognition in Tennessee as the current Governor and former Mayor of Nashville. Similar to Bredesen, much of Rep. Blackburn’s experience resides in public service. Blackburn was elected to Tennessee’s State Senate in 1998 and was later elected to represent Tennessee’s 7th congressional district in the U.S. House. Blackburn won the Republican primary with 84.5% of the vote and Gov. Bredesen won the Democratic primary with 91.5% of the vote.

Trump carried the state by 26 points in 2016, however, with Senator Corker’s unexpected retirement, the race has been considered as a toss-up race. While President Trump carried some rural counties by more than 80% of the vote, his support in suburban areas was not as strong. As reported by Tennessee citizen, the suburban areas that Trump narrowly won could play a key role in deciding the Senate race. Specifically, the outlet notes that white, college-educated women are a demographic that Republicans have generally struggled to pick up and one that Bredesen has been strategically working to attract. Bredeson has recently held a series of roundtable discussions talking about women’s health, as well as announcing the launch of “Women United for Bredesen,” a group aimed at highlighting and organizing discussions of women’s issues. Additionally, this divide between candidates among female voters has already become noticeable. A poll published by NBC/Marist found that 55% of college-educated white women would vote for Bredesen, over the 40% that indicated their support for Blackburn.

As for Blackburn, she has focused some of her messaging around her ability to break barriers for females. Her campaign website highlights her entrepreneurial nature and her desire to be a “force for positive conservative change.” Just last month, Blackburn ran an ad noting her opposition to sex trafficking and highlighting the work that she has done thus far in Congress to combat sex trafficking and sexual harassment.

The opioid crisis has emerged as a top issue for both nominees, with each candidate outlining their own specific plan to combat the epidemic on social media and at various public appearances. Additionally, both candidates have also focused a good portion of their Twitter content on overall access to healthcare, economic and fiscal policy, as well as their commitment to work and advocate for Tennessee families.

The two candidates have raised similar amounts of contributions during the election cycle. According to the FEC, Bredesen has raised $8,526,736 as of September 13, 2018. Similarly, Blackburn has raised $8,091,624.91 thus far in her campaign race. A recent NBC/Marist poll shows Bredesen slightly ahead of Blackburn with a 2% advantage. Coverage around this race continues to show that the race will be highly competitive between Bredesen and Braun. The first debate between the two candidates is set for Sept. 25.

The Wason Center currently rates this race as Lean Republican.


Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) are the candidates for the Senate seat in Nevada. Sen. Dean Heller was first elected to the Nevada Senate seat in 2011. Prior to his tenure in the Senate, Heller served in the Nevada State Assembly and as the Secretary of State in Nevada. Jacky Rosen currently represents the 3rd congressional district of Nevada in the U.S. House, having first been elected to that seat in 2016.

Both primary elections drew a number of interested candidates, however, Heller and Rosen won their primary elections by 69.97% and 77.11% of the vote, respectively. Heller narrowly won his seat in 2012 by o1% and is the only incumbent Republican representing a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. For these reasons, many Democrats see Nevada as one of their best opportunities to flip a congressional seat in 2018.

Both candidates have toed the party line with messaging and policy stances. On his campaign website, Heller listed veterans benefits, border security and immigration, and revising current fiscal policy as some of his top priority issues. On Rosen’s website, education reform, environmental protections, welfare programs, and immigration are positioned as some of her policy priorities.

Big money is flowing through the state of Nevada for its upcoming Senate race. Both candidates have managed to accrue a great amount of fundraising for their campaigns, with Heller having an edge over Rosen by $1 million. As reported by the FEC, Heller has raised $10,939,110.01, while Rosen has raised $9,401,407.67.

The Wason Center currently rates this race as Lean Democrat.


The Arizona race is one of the closest-watched Senate races due to Arizona’s long history as a red state and because if Democrats can flip the seat blue this cycle, they may be able to pick up an additional seat in the 2020 cycle when John McCain’s former seat will be filled for the remainder of his term. In the race to replace departing Sen. Jeff Flake, the state has already seen a higher rate of voter enthusiasm and interest, with a record-breaking number of Arizonans casting their ballot in last month’s primary election. As reported by state election officials, 1.2 million voters showed up to the polls or mailed in their ballot for the August 28 primary, placing total voter turnout at around 33 percent. This increase was specifically propelled by a higher number of Democratic voters turning out to the polls – 524,000 compared to the 377,000 Democratic voters that turned out in the 2016 primary. On the other side of the aisle, 671,000 Republican voters showed up to vote in this year’s primary, compared to 2016’s 606,000 Republican voters.

Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) are challenging each other for Arizona’s open Senate seat. Sinema, a US congresswoman and former representative in the Arizona State Legislature, was widely unchallenged in the Democratic primary election. She had only one challenger in the primary, however, Sinema was able to gather 80.5% of the vote to carry her to a solid primary win.

Sinema was once a member of the liberal Green Party and a self-described “Prada socialist,” but now, she is one of the congressional Democrats most likely to vote in line with President Trump, with FiveThirtyEight indicating that she votes in line with the President’s policies around 60 percent of the time. She is also a member of Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate-leaning Democrats. “What I learned early on, my very first term in the Statehouse is when I was willing to listen to other people, to their ideas and work together, you can get a lot of stuff done,” said Sinema, acknowledging her ideological shift. Sinema’s bipartisan tendencies help make her the party’s best chance of winning the red-state.

Even though GOP Rep. Martha McSally has consistently been the favorite to win the primary, an intraparty battle made McSally’s path to a primary election win a little bit harder. Challenging McSally in the primary were former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. All three candidates advocated for tougher immigration laws, touted their support for President Trump, and fought to be the “most conservative.” In the end, McSally swept away the primary, winning 53 percent of the vote, largely defeating her opponents, Ward and Arpaio, who only received 28.1 percent and 18.9 percent respectively.

McSally, who has built a reputation as a moderate Republican after winning a competitive congressional race in 2014, had the GOP establishment’s support throughout the primary race. Before the Republican primary, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that McSally could be the party’s only chance of maintaining control of the Senate seat. Though President Trump held off on making any endorsement during the primary, he was quick to cast his support for McSally via Twitter once she won the nomination, calling McSally “an extraordinary woman.” Given the fact that Arizonan Democrats are already energized about this election, Trump’s endorsement could be useful in motivating the Republican base in this state.

In the primary alone, McSally spent almost seven times as much as her challengers, according to Federal Election Commission documents. McSally had $1.9 million of cash on hand, compared to Ward’s $257,000 and Arpaio’s $292,000. While the Republican candidate’s duked it out during the primary season, Sinema was left alone for months to run ads and messaging to position herself as an independent who knows how to work across the aisle. So far, Sinema has raised and spent nearly $10 million on her campaign, with her first television ad airing back in April featuring her brother who is a Marine veteran and a police officer.

Following the primary, Sinema was quick to challenge McSally to two televised debates during the race up to the general election. “Whether it’s protecting affordable, quality health insurance; getting our veterans the care they deserve; ensuring all Arizonans have the opportunity to succeed; or keeping Americans safe at home and abroad — these are the issues Arizonans care about most and they deserve to know our plans to address them,” said Sinema in her challenge letter. A spokeswoman from McSally’s campaign responded that McSally is looking forward to debating Sinema this fall.

The path to Democrats gaining a Senate majority could run right through the state of Arizona. Democrats need a net gain at least two seats while holding onto all 26 of their currently held seats. While the state voted for President Trump by 3.5 percentage pointed in 2016, Democrats have been bolstered by its rapidly diversifying electorate and a national political climate that favors their candidate. Notably, a woman has never represented Arizona in the US Senate, so whichever candidate wins, they will become the first female US senator from Arizona – With Arizona projected to be a toss-up this election, the Wason Center will continue to monitor this race and report on its advancements to cue citizens in on any important findings or news mentions.

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