Politics

As Messer and Rokita Squabble, Third GOP Indiana Senate Hopeful Sees Opening

Self-funded state representative looks to sneak around infighting en route to nomination

Indiana state Rep. Mike Braun, who owns an automotive supply business, said if you’re not willing to spend big, it doesn’t “matter how well people might like you.”  (Mike Braun for Indiana)

With Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita trading insults in the Indiana Senate Republican primary, a third candidate seeks to quietly bypass the kerfuffle en route to the GOP nod.

State Rep. Mike Braun has flooded his war chest with nearly $800,000 of his own money and raised $200,000 more, mostly from business associates of his automotive supply business. The GOP primary winner will face vulnerable Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly

“One reason people are listening to me is the tone of the race, as exhibited by the two of them — and I think especially Todd Rokita, who I think has been throwing most of the punches,” Braun told The Associated Press. “I think that general disappointment with the way discourse unfurls is out there.”

The animosity between Rokita and Messer, who graduated from all-male Wabash College in Indiana a year apart, has been mounting for some time and predates their official announcements for Senate bids.

In May, Rokita accused Messer of planting a negative story about him in Politico that revealed Rokita had used $100,000 of campaign money on a private plane.

“Messer is attacking me for using my small prop plane to travel Indiana meeting Hoosiers — the same plane I use doing charity work for wounded veterans and sick children,” Rokita wrote in a fundraising email to supporters, The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette reported at the time.

Rokita pointed out in the email, accurately, that he did not breach ethical or legal protocol.

But he has not spared Messer from personal digs, either. The four-term Republican’s allies have painted Messer’s decision to move his family to Washington, D.C., as betraying the state. And Rokita has repeatedly blasted Messer for the $240,000 salary his wife receives from the city of Fishers for a part-time legal job.

Braun knows that to capitalize on the GOP infighting and stage a successful insurgent bid, he’ll need to empty his pockets.

He said that if a candidate was not willing to spend big, it wouldn’t “matter how well people may like you” as the message “won’t be heard by voters when it really counts.”

Rokita reported he had $2.35 million banked at the end of the second quarter, while Messer had about $2 million. Rokita reported he raised more than $1 million during the second quarter, compared to Messer’s $578,000.

Braun’s strategy seems to be to group Rokita and Messer together and depict their squabbling as a Washington-steeped sideshow.

He promised to vote in the Senate “how Hoosiers want you to vote.”

“I’m from the trenches of conservatism, where you’re living and doing,” Braun said. The two congressmen, he added, are “talking a good game while nothing changes.”

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-Up.

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