- Associated Press - Monday, August 23, 2010

SOUTH BEND, Ind. | Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly is taking an unusual jab at his own Democratic Party leadership in a campaign ad that refers to climate-change legislation as “Nancy Pelosi’s energy tax.”

In one more sign of the difficult political climate for many moderate congressional Democrats in this midterm season, the two-term lawmaker is pulling a page from Republican strategists in trying to distance himself from the liberal Democratic House speaker from California and from policies that have some voters wary.

In one ad, Mr. Donnelly says he voted against Mrs. Pelosi’s “energy tax on Hoosier families.” Another ad touts his votes to crack down on illegal immigration. Mr. Donnelly says he doesn’t work for the “Washington crowd” as a photograph of President Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Republican House Minority Leader John A. Boehner flashes by.

Joe Donnelly has consistently been rated one of the most independent members of Congress,” said Mike Schmuhl, Mr. Donnelly’s campaign manager, in a statement late last week. “These ads reflect Joe’s work to put the people of north-central Indiana before any political party or leader.”

The campaign wouldn’t comment on how much the ads cost or how often they will run.

Brian Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, said he doesn’t think Mr. Donnelly’s criticism of Mrs. Pelosi will mean much to voters.

“Much of the leadership of the Republican Party has already realized that most people in Indiana don’t even know who Nancy Pelosi is, which is why they pulled so many of their ads like that,” Mr. Vargus said. “Nancy Pelosi is not a household name in this state.”

He said there are some anti-Obama feelings in Indiana. But he said the key in the race in north-central Indiana isn’t going to be Mr. Obama or Mrs. Pelosi.

“The main issue in this state, I don’t care where you go, is economy and jobs,” Mr. Vargus said. “They care about how bad off are they.”

Mr. Donnelly, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat, is seeking a third term in northern Indiana’s 2nd District, which he first won in 2006 by defeating two-term Republican Rep. Chris Chocola with 54 percent of the vote.

The district has a history as a swing district. Mr. Vargus describes it as leaning Democratic.

Mr. Donnelly’s opponent, Republican former state Rep. Jackie Walorski, said Mr. Donnelly is distorting his record.

She said he votes with Mrs. Pelosi 88 percent of the time and with Mr. Obama 85 percent of the time.

“I don’t get how you call yourself an independent voice with that kind of a track record,” said the conservative Republican, who last week picked up a Facebook endorsement from former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

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