Donnelly a man in the middle of the Senate
After a congressional recess tour of Indiana, Donnelly concluded he also is where his Hoosier constituents want him to be, in the ranks of moderates, an endangered species in Washington.
Hoosiers are concerned about "the daily realities in their lives," jobs, education and the future for their children and grandchildren, Donnelly said.
Nobody asked him back in Indiana about what somebody said somewhere in past talking points about Benghazi or some of the other endless disputes that take center stage in Washington, Donnelly said.
In his office is a sign: "Hoosier Common Sense."
No, he can't define it exactly, but he said it refers to what any normal person without political motives would understand and want -- such as working together for the common good.
But is that possible in the divisive climate here? After all, when the Senate finally passed a budget, a small group that had called for a budget used Senate rules to obstruct sending it on for negotiations with the House.
It got so discouraging for moderates in the Senate that in recent elections, Evan Bayh, a moderate
Democrat from Indiana, and Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, both well funded, well liked and well ahead in projections, declined to seek re-election, saying they just didn't want to go back to the useless bickering and stalemate.
"I'm an optimist," Donnelly said
While he acknowledged that what seem to be common sense approaches often are defeated in the political warfare in the House, where he served for six years, as well as now in the Senate, Donnelly said he won't stop trying.
"I put my uniform on every day and go play," he said.
And he expressed confidence that the moderate team, though with a depleted roster, will win some.
Donnelly cited a Wall Street Journal analysis that mentioned 13 younger moderates on the Demo-cratic side in the Senate -- Donnelly among them -- who could provide the bridge for constructive compromise on the big issues of spending, debt and taxation.
There are efforts at working together, Donnelly said, even though the news of the partisan bickering overshadows the quiet search for understanding and compromise.
He said a quarter of the Senate membership, with about equal representation of the two parties, met for a private, no-leadership-attending dinner to talk about common goals, common sense.
Donnelly said he has found no problem in working with many of the Republican senators. And neither arm is in a cast as a result of his reaching across the aisle.
He mentioned Sen. John McCain of Arizona, with whom he serves on the Armed Services Committee, as a Republican clearly putting country ahead of politics, often in a very blunt way.
Donnelly related that at a party marking the anniversary of McCain's release as a prisoner of war, McCain quipped that the North Vietnamese "found me as crusty to deal with as you do."
As a moderate in the middle, Donnelly has been a target for both sides, especially on the gun violence issue.
He didn't support a ban on assault rifles, resulting in criticism from gun control advocates. He did support closing loopholes in background checks for gun purchases, bringing criticism from the gun industry.
Donnelly said the closing of loopholes that allow purchases without background checks at gun shows is an example of that "Hoosier Common Sense" motto. He said it makes no sense to have checks at gun stores but not check for criminal or mental health problems before sales at gun shows.
After his recent tour of the state and other travels in campaigning and after his election to the Senate last fall, Donnelly has reached this conclusion about his constituents: His 2nd Congressional District is pretty representative of the entire state -- similar concerns about jobs, manufacturing, agriculture, education, the future.
And similar desire for him to stand right where he is, in the middle, shot at by both sides in the divisive warfare in Washington.
Jack Colwell is a columnist for The Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by e-mail at email@example.com.