INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly confirmed Wednesday he will vote for President Barack Obama in November, but he left open the possibility of voting for a Republican for Senate majority leader if he's elected.
Donnelly told The Associated Press he would be an independent and moderate voice in Washington in the mold of former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, whose seat he is vying to fill.
In making that argument, Donnelly has touted his opposition to Democratic leadership on key issues such as climate change legislation and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But Republican candidate Richard Mourdock and his supporters have spent millions of dollars on ads arguing that Donnelly would amount to no more than another vote for Democratic leaders in Washington.
"I don't agree with everything he's done, clearly I don't. I voted against issue after issue after issue he supports," Donnelly said of the president. "But I have never understood a campaign like Mr. Mourdock's where they're focus is on saying that 'You know the president.' I knew George Bush, I respected George Bush, I respect Barack Obama, because they are the presidents of the United States."
Democratic candidates' support for the top of their ticket is almost universally expected, but Democrats in conservative states like Indiana have often tried to distance themselves from the party leadership. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who campaigned for Donnelly last month, said earlier this year he had not yet committed to voting for Obama because of his energy and environmental policies.
Donnelly has walked a careful line through the race, touting his opposition to some Democratic priorities such as energy legislation, while heartily defending his support for others such as the federal health care law. Indiana's battle has turned into a debate over who can better compromise and work across party lines, ironically, in the vein of Lugar, who lost the Republican primary over allegations that he compromised too much in Washington.
At stake in the Indiana race is control of the Senate as Democrats and Republicans battle over slim margins of control. Republicans have accused Donnelly of being a guaranteed vote for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but Donnelly left open the possibility of voting for a Republican to lead the chamber.
Asked if he would support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for majority leader, he said "I don't know who I'd support." Asked again if he would consider voting for any Republican to lead the chamber he said "I'd consider voting for the best person."