UNITED STATES - APRIL 4: Mike Braun, who is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Indiana, is interviewed in Bekah's Westside Cafe in Lebanon, Ind., on April 4, 2018.
CNN projection: Braun elected to US Senate
01:41 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Republican Mike Braun will defeat Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, CNN projects, giving Republicans a major pick-up to bolster their Senate majority in a state President Donald Trump won handily two years earlier.

First elected to the Senate in 2012, Donnelly spent his first six years aware he’d be among the top Republican targets in his bid for re-election.

Donnelly had won the seat in 2012 with a healthy dose of luck, following a series of Republican errors. A tea party primary had purged six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, replacing him on the ballot with controversial state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Then, Mourdock stumbled just two weeks from Election Day, calling pregnancies resulting from rape “something that God intended to happen” – a comment that led then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney to distance himself from Mourdock and all but cemented Donnelly’s victory.

Trump’s 19 percentage point victory in Indiana underscored just how difficult the state would be for a Democrat to hold in 2018.

And two Republican congressmen, Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, spent years angling to run against Donnelly.

But Braun, a little-known former state representative and owner of an auto parts distributorship with millions of his own dollars to spend, ran a masterful primary campaign. He offered himself as a straight-talking alternative and cast Messer and Rokita as ambitious politicians who even looked alike. For a television ad, he carried around cardboard cutouts of the two and asked voters if they knew which one was which.

Outspending both of his opponents, Braun won the primary.

The general election turned into a battle over trade, with both candidates accusing the other of outsourcing jobs and wages.

Republicans attempted to brand Donnelly as “Mexico Joe” after The Associated Press reported that Donnelly owned stock in a business that had a factory in Mexico. Donnelly sold the stock. Braun, meanwhile, was attacked for sourcing many of the auto parts his business sells from China.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor, each made several visits to the state to campaign for Braun. Trump branded Donnelly “Sleepy Joe.”

Donnelly sought to portray himself as a centrist, often praising Trump and highlighting moments at which he had broken from Democratic leadership in the Senate.

Braun, meanwhile, leaned into Indiana’s Republican-heavy makeup, airing ads attacking Donnelly for voting against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and for endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016.