SOUTH BEND – Sen. Joe Donnelly believes in campaigning. The old style of campaigning. What he calls a “grind it out” style. Meeting voters here, there, everywhere, all over the state.

That’s why, during the Senate recess, the politically endangered Democrat traveled to every corner of the state and in the middle, too, on a seven-day tour that ended Thursday.

Donnelly said in an interview that he found health care the No. 1 issue with Hoosiers, with strong support for the Affordable Care Act provision for insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, especially for children.

And of course he reminded voters everywhere, as he did at an event in LaPorte Wednesday night, that he cast a crucial vote to keep Senate Republicans from repealing that provision along with other parts of the health care law.

He also praised a Republican, Sen. John McCain, described as “one of my personal heroes,” for giving the decisive thumbs down vote on repeal.

Donnelly said he also found concern over trade and tariffs in his meetings with groups of farmers and with business owners at manufacturing facilities he visited.

What he didn’t find, Donnelly said, was any backlash for his vote against the Republican tax plan, what he calls “Mitch McConnell’s tax plan.”

He said it was not the tax bill with middle-class benefits and avoidance of huge deficits that President Trump expressed support for in meeting with Donnelly and other moderate Democratic senators at a White House dinner.

Donnelly doesn’t bash Trump.

Democratic progressives may not understand that. But if Donnelly is to be reelected, he must win support of a lot of the Hoosiers who voted for Trump. The president carried Indiana by 19%.

Donnelly does criticize Trump administration policies, on deficits, tariffs and especially on what he calls “sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act that is forcing Hoosiers to pay more for less coverage.

The “grind it out” style isn’t viewed by all campaign consultants these days as an efficient strategy in a statewide race. Why waste time traveling for hours to waste more hours talking to small groups? Why not concentrate on raising funds for vital TV and on big events sure to capture news coverage?

But Donnelly on his tour did it the old-fashioned way, going to factory gates at dawn, vising folks at small diners at lunch, stopping to meet with groups of farmers or teachers or business people and then continuing into the night to give pep talks to campaign workers.

The “grind it out” style isn’t new for Donnelly. Riding from the LaPorte event, he pointed out a park where he often would “pull over and knock out for about half an hour” in order to make sure he didn’t fall asleep after a long campaign day as he drove back late at night to his Granger home.

Problems occur. Donnelly planned to travel throughout the tour on his 2002 Indiana-made RV. But it broke down in in Noble County. His campaign staff had praise for “Farmer John,” who saw the vehicle at the side of the road and provided a lift to the next event.

Donnelly obviously seeks funding for TV ads. And he has done well, with enough to stay on television with major buys for the rest of the campaign.

But he avoids the national television that appeals to many other candidates who seek enhanced prestige in making national news.

“I’m invited constantly to be on those shows,” Donnelly said. He declines. Partisan fireworks on such programs, especially on cable networks, don’t appeal to a senator who prides himself on long having high ratings of bipartisanship.

Grinding it out worked before for Donnelly. So, he campaigns again the old- fashioned way. Whether it still works will be shown in Indiana totals on Nov. 6. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.