Politics

Indiana Rep. Luke Messer Running for Senate

GOP primary candidates have already been sparring

Indiana Rep. Luke Messer announced he’s running for Senate on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:30 p.m. | Indiana Rep. Luke Messer announced on Wednesday he’s running for Senate.

In declaring his bid to challenge vulnerable Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, the third-term Republican congressman tweeted, “We’re in!!” with a link to his new campaign site just before noon.

Several hours later, Messer’s campaign account tweeted a video of his statewide finance chairman Greg Pence (the brother of Vice President Mike Pence), saying Messer is “officially running for the U.S. Senate.” Greg Pence has been mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Messer in the 6th District.

Messer had been widely expected to run for Senate for months. Until he wasn’t.

In recent weeks, rumors have been flying about Messer, a member of House GOP leadership, getting cold feet. Much of that chatter first originated from allies of fellow Hoosier Rep. Todd Rokita of the 4th District, who’s also expected to run for the GOP nod.

Despite his position on the House Financial Services Committee, Messer raised less money in the second quarter than Rokita, who started openly considering a bid slightly later than Messer. Rokita raised $1 million to Messer’s $578,000, and ended the quarter with slightly more cash on hand.

Messer has endured attacks from Rokita allies about his residency (he moved his family to D.C.) and about the $240,000 salary Messer’s wife receives for a part-time legal job from the city of Fishers. 

A primary between these two Wabash College alumni has been among the worst kept campaign secrets in Washington this year, with both maintaining congressional re-election organizations that have been openly gearing up for Senate bids. 

Messer had been expected to announce his campaign at his family’s annual barbecue on Aug. 12 in Indiana. 

His campaign consultants released a polling memo last week that showed Messer and Rokita tied at 23 percent in a seven-way GOP primary. Head-to-head, Messer led Rokita 27 percent to 26 percent in the OnMessage Inc. poll, conducted by telephone among 400 likely GOP primary voters in mid-July.

The memo said Rokita’s attacks on Messer “could come back to bite him,” pointing to positive message-testing about Messer’s decision to move his family to Washington so that his children could have a “full-time father.” 

Rokita’s campaign team responded Wednesday afternoon, saying the 4th District congressman’s decision on the race is “imminent.”

His consultants released their own polling that showed Rokita leading Messer 21 percent to 14 percent in an eight-way GOP primary. In just a two-person matchup, Rokita led Messer 28 percent to 20 percent. On both hypothetical ballots, more than 50 percent were undecided. 

The poll included its own message-testing on Messer’s residency issue, comparing the congressman to former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.

GS Strategy Group surveyed 500 likely GOP primary voters in mid-July, a few days after Messer’s pollster was in the field. 

Other Republicans still considering entering the race include Attorney General Curtis Hill, state Rep. Mike Braun and state Sen. Mike Delph. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election a Toss-up.

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