The GOP 2018 Indiana Senate Primary: Who Will Prevail?

Posted on: May 2, 2018, by :
Congressman Luke Messer, Mike Braun, and Congressman Todd Rokita







By Jeff Turner

Indiana’s November Senate race may well be one of the most important in the nation in the Democrat’s quest to gain control of the U.S. Senate. The Senate currently stands at 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 Independents who caucus with Democrats. Democrats would need to pick up three seats in order to regain a majority, while at the same time holding on to every Senate seat of those Democratic senators up for reelection.

There are thirty-five seats up for election, twenty-six of which are held by Democrats. Several of those Democrats running for reelection are in red states, including Missouri, Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Indiana. Of these races, according to the Cook County Political Report, Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is considered one of the most vulnerable Senators in the entire country of those seeking reelection. The GOP will be expending enormous resources in an effort to flip the seat to offset any potential losses in November. There are currently three candidates running in the Republican Senate Primary: Representative Todd Rokita, Representative Luke Messer, and former state representative Mike Braun. Donnelly faces no primary challengers, and is able to devote all his resources toward the November race where he will face off against whomever prevails in the GOP primary. For the three men vying for the Republican nomination, and Donnelly’s Senate seat however, it has been a rather contentious primary. The GOP Senate candidates have been spending more time attacking each other than Donnelly, and all three are facing potential problems on the campaign trail.

Rokita is dealing with a backlash over his campaign distributing yard signs that (falsely) indicated that he is the candidate endorsed by the Trump campaign (when in reality, it was only two volunteers from the 2016 Trump campaign that actually endorsed Rokita). Messer has had two previous DUI arrests come back to haunt him. The issue stems from the fact that the state representative he was chosen to replace in 2003, before he was elected to Congress, was killed by a drunk driver. Mike Braun has been attacked due to reports that he pushed to cut taxes on timber companies, as well as regulations, which benefited him since he has financial ties to such companies.

It has been a very long and drawn out race, one of the highlights of it being the Braun campaign’s “cardboard cutout” ad, where Braun attempts to paint Messer and Rokita as typical Washington insiders, while he himself is the Trump-like outsider. This seems to be Braun’s greatest advantage, though while not new to politics, he himself is not part of the D.C. GOP establishment. This may well allow him to eke out a win over his two better-known opponents, though the recent controversy concerning his financial stake in timber companies he moved to cut taxes and regulations for can be used against him by the Donnelly campaign in November, should he prevail.

But Braun also faces another potential problem. According to a December 6, 2017 article in the Indianapolis Star, Braun “voted for more than a decade as a Democrat in the state’s (Indiana’s) primary elections.” His campaign spokesman claimed in December that Braun only voted in Democratic primaries to impact their outcomes, but is nonetheless still a Republican. And yet his outsider status during this nasty GOP primary, along with his rather creative attack ads, have him at a distinct advantage over Rokita (who is generally disliked in Indiana Republican circles) and Messer (who is well-liked by the establishment wing of the party). According to a recent poll conducted by Gravis Marketing, both Messer and Rokita would lose to Donnelly in the general election. No polls were conducted with regard to a potential Donnelly/Braun matchup, however. Both Rokita and Messer have attempted to use Braun’s voting in the Democratic primaries to paint him as not being a true Republican, which does not appear to be working. Braun leads both Messer and Rokita according to the Gravis Marketing polls (Braun 26%, Rokita 16%, Messer 13%, 45% undecided).

Monday’s GOP Senate primary debate featured all three men vowing to be staunch supporters of Trump; their views on the issues markedly similar. The only real departure was Braun stating the legalizing of medical marijuana should be left up to the states rather than decrying it as a “gateway drug,” as his two opponents did. The goal of any primary is to appeal to the party’s base, and despite his past possible Democratic affiliation, Braun appears to have accomplished this. Hoosier Republicans appear to be turned off by party insiders. Nonetheless, Braun does have some potential flaws that have been brought up during this primary race that can be used against him should he win Tuesday’s primary race and go on to face Donnelly in November.

His comment during Monday’s debate, “We do not need more career politicians in Washington,” seems to reflect the sentiments of Hoosier Republicans in a state that overwhelmingly went for Trump in 2016.

But the infighting between the three GOP candidates for the nomination may actually prove to be what allows Donnelly to be reelected to a second term. The power of incumbency, plus a predicted blue wave in November, which should allow Democrats to retake the House should it actually manifest, may be what allows Donnelly to keep his seat in deep red Indiana. Midterm elections are typically a “referendum” on the current White House occupant, and all the time and money these three candidates have spent on this campaign, attacking each other more often than Donnelly, may well in the end prove fruitless. Until then, Braun seems to be on track to win the primary.

Predicted GOP Primary winner: Mike Braun

Predicted winner in November: Joe Donnelly

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