- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A small protest by liberals outside Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly’s downtown Indianapolis office this week could signal trouble for his 2018 re-election hopes.

Some of those who protested against Donnelly’s decision to break with his party and to support Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court said they were uneasy about voting for him next year. That liberal pushback against the moderate Donnelly comes as he’s already being targeted by national Republicans in a state that President Donald Trump carried by 19 percentage points.

Pamela Griffin, a retired Indianapolis elementary school teacher, said she was going to think “long and hard” about supporting Donnelly in next year’s election, while acknowledging it was “kind of a fluke” he was elected in the Republican-dominated state in 2012.

“He’s rubber-stamped some stuff that he shouldn’t have for Trump,” Griffin said. “I’m disappointed in him that he’s not really doing what his party would want him to do.”

Donnelly won his first Senate term in 2012 with just over 50 percent of the vote and is now the sole Indiana Democrat holding statewide office.

The National Rifle Association ran campaign-style ads in the past week questioning Donnelly’s pro-gun stance if he wasn’t willing to support Gorsuch, which he did on Thursday, joining three other Democrats who voted to end his party’s filibuster. Two Republican U.S. House members, Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, have signaled they may challenge Donnelly for his seat next year.

Donnelly has tried to cultivate an independent image, highlighting his work on veterans issues and trying to stop the loss of Indiana factory jobs. He has supported some of Trump’s Cabinet picks but he’s also spoken out against the failed Republican health care bill.

Donnelly said Sunday that he would vote to confirm Gorsuch, whom he described as qualified and well respected. He and two of the other Democratic senators who support Gorsuch - Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota - are moderates from states that Trump won by big margins last November. The fourth, Sen. Michael Bennet from Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado, said he wouldn’t join the filibuster but hasn’t said how he would vote on Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Donnelly said he wasn’t worried about criticism of his decision.

“I don’t work for other senators. I don’t work for the president. I don’t work for the court. I work for the people of Indiana,” he told WANE-TV of Fort Wayne on Wednesday. “My job is to try to make the best decisions I can for all of us.”

Protester Beverly Evans, a retired college counselor from Indianapolis, said the Gorsuch vote was important to her.

“If the only thought is ‘Gee, I better do what I need to do to get re-elected’ that kind of disturbs me,” Evans said of Donnelly. “Sometimes it is hard for me to tell what party he’s in. Do we have two Republican senators already? I wouldn’t like to think so.”

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Follow Tom Davies on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TomDaviesIND

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