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HAMMOND — With Democrat party values under attack by the White House and members of Congress, an energetic former Vice President Joe Biden arrived at the city’s Civic Center alongside U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly with a clear directive to any Hoosier voting in the midterm elections Nov. 6.

“If there’s any time we need more character in the United States Senate, it’s now. … There’s a desperate need, in both parties, for women and men with character, who put their country above their party, above a president, above their own self interests. And that’s Joe. That’s Joe Donnelly,” Biden said, greeted with a roar of applause from the crowd.

“Joe has more character in his little finger than the vast majority of the men and women I’ve worked with in my career,” Biden added, noting this year’s election is “bigger than politics.”

In one of the most tightly contested races of 2018, the latest public opinion polls show Donnelly maintaining a narrow edge over his opponent, President Donald Trump-backed Republican Mike Braun.

But Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. urged the thousands of Hoosiers in a nearly packed Civic Center gymnasium not to sit home on Election Day. McDermott said it’s incumbent upon “all of us” to get everyone out to vote, and to vote early, for Donnelly in his re-election campaign.

McDermott said Donnelly deserves our vote because of his ability to reach across the aisle and willingness to “work his butt off.”

“Joe Donnelly’s a gentleman. He’s a Hoosier. He’s American. He’s a Democrat. And he’s our friend!” a vocally strained McDermott screamed into the crowd.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to get everyone out to vote, and to vote Democrat across the board. That’s my public service announcement for the day,” McDermott said.

The night’s lineup included speakers like Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, and the Indiana Pacers' Victor Oladipo.

Donnelly’s seat is one of the most sought-after by Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. The Biden/Donnelly and early vote rally was held on the same night current Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to Indianapolis for this year’s Indiana Republican Party Fall Dinner.

It’s been a balancing act for Donnelly as the Democrat has struggled and succeeded in appealing to both parties in Indiana. He backed Trump’s controversial immigration plan, yet Donnelly said he fought to save key aspects of the Affordable Care Act. 

“I’m running in the Senate because everyone counts. Every Hoosier counts. Every Hoosier is entitled to decent health care and every American is entitled to decent health care,” Donnelly said.

Lake County Democratic organizers asked the crowd of 2,300 to make the final days before Election Day count by knocking on doors and talking one-on-one with potential voters.

Early voting kicked off earlier this week and lasts through Nov. 5.

Donnelly appeared to have won over at least one undecided voter: Joanna Halinski, of Hammond, who attended the rally with her three young sons.

“I wasn’t going to vote for Donnelly. I was almost going to go Libertarian,” Halinski said. “After the (recent) debate, that kind of had me on the fence with Donnelly but if Biden’s with Donnelly, I’m with Donnelly. I’m totally decided.”

Biden has been traveling the country in recent weeks, campaigning for fellow Democrats in small-margin races or in battleground states. Biden said he held off for as long as he could when Trump entered the Oval Office. 

“Obama and I, we agreed would give the new president an opportunity to establish himself,” he said. “But our values are being shredded by the Republican Party. Our democracy is under assault. Our institutions are under attack.”

“This is not who we are. Our kids are listening. Our children are watching. And our silence is complicity,” Biden said.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.