Indiana GOP Senate candidates square off in raucous debate

Candidates in Indiana’s Republican Senate primary squared off Tuesday night for a raucous debate that was much like the campaign: notable more for name-calling and bare-knuckled attacks than major policy differences.

Posted: Feb 21, 2018 11:16 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Candidates in Indiana’s Republican Senate primary squared off Tuesday night for a raucous debate that was much like the campaign: notable more for name-calling and bare-knuckled attacks than major policy differences.

That was apparent from the get-go, when Rep. Todd Rokita took a dig during his opening remarks at opponents, fellow congressman Luke Messer and former state lawmaker Mike Braun.

“Mike, welcome to the Republican Party,” Rokita said. “Luke, welcome back to Indiana.”

It was a far-from-subtle reference to Braun’s lengthy history of voting in Democratic primary elections, which lasted until 2012, as well as Messer’s decision to sell his family’s Indiana home and relocate to suburban Washington, D.C.

With all three candidates seeking to claim the mantle of most conservative and few major policy differences between them, most of what distinguished them was style.

Messer focused his attacks on Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, who the winner of the primary will face in November, while portraying himself as the only adult among the candidates. Rokita presented himself as an iconoclast supporter of President Donald Trump, intent on torching the GOP establishment. Braun, meanwhile, claimed to be an outsider businessman who built a successful auto parts distribution empire.

After one particularly heated back-and-forth, Messer lamented that his rivals were intent on attacking each other.

“I’ll tell you who most likes this exchange — Joe Donnelly,” Messer said. “The only way Democrats can win in this state is when Republicans are divided and throw stones at each other.”

Still, during the hour-and-a-half-long debate, there were some differences. Rokita attacked Braun over his 2016 vote in the Legislature for an infrastructure spending package that increased dozens of fees and hiked Indiana’s per-gallon fuel tax by 10 cents.

He also criticized Messer for voting in favor of a recent bipartisan spending bill, sought by Trump, as well as his past support in the Legislature for publicly funding of a sports stadium.

“If you nominate one of these two — guys who have raised taxes — Joe Donnelly will be the tax cutter in the race,” Rokita said.

Still, the attack was somewhat disingenuous. In 2015, Rokita advocated for the same sort of infrastructure-related tax increase Braun voted for.

“If we hadn’t done what we did there ... we would never be addressing the problem,” Braun fired back. “Everyone involved knew the problem was ... severe, and we did the right thing.”

It was just the latest exchange in a race that began with bitter personal attacks between Messer and Rokita before either officially entered the running.

Messer had initially hoped to coast to the GOP nomination. But Rokita elbowed his way into contention after The Associated Press reported on a lucrative contract Messer’s wife Jennifer has with the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers, which pays her $240,000 a year to do part-time legal work from home in suburban Washington.

Messer, who primarily resides in McLean, Virginia, says he lives with his mom whenever he is back home in Indiana.

Rokita, who claims to be a fiscal hawk, has been the subject of stories detailing his use of $3 million in public funds for self-promotional ads and mailers, as well as a reputation he developed as a high-maintenance boss who has created a toxic work environment.

The debate was sponsored by the Indiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national political operation funded by billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch.

West Lafayette
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 85°
Kokomo
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 82°
Rensselaer
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Fowler
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 81°
Williamsport
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 82°
Crawfordsville
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 80°
Frankfort
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 82°
Delphi
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Monticello
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Logansport
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 82°
Warm Weekend Continues Sunday
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 72254

Reported Deaths: 3023
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15503725
Lake7447274
Elkhart476082
Allen3789161
St. Joseph337381
Hamilton2668105
Vanderburgh188813
Hendricks1833106
Cass17749
Johnson1719118
Porter126639
Clark117846
Tippecanoe117711
Madison91565
LaPorte88330
Howard87265
Kosciusko84012
Marshall77122
Bartholomew76647
Floyd76045
Monroe72230
Delaware70152
Dubois67612
Boone66246
Noble65929
Hancock64138
Vigo58610
Jackson5725
Warrick57030
LaGrange55610
Shelby54227
Grant52130
Dearborn49328
Morgan45934
Clinton4093
Henry37320
Wayne35410
White35410
Montgomery34821
Lawrence33627
Decatur33232
Harrison32123
Putnam2868
Miami2672
Daviess26320
Scott26310
Greene24634
Franklin23813
Jasper2272
DeKalb2264
Jennings22012
Gibson2144
Steuben2063
Ripley1977
Fayette1837
Perry18112
Carroll1772
Starke1767
Posey1670
Orange16624
Wabash1633
Wells1622
Fulton1612
Jefferson1552
Whitley1506
Knox1490
Tipton1336
Spencer1313
Washington1311
Huntington1213
Newton11510
Randolph1154
Clay1095
Sullivan1031
Adams952
Jay860
Owen841
Pulaski761
Rush744
Brown731
Fountain682
Blackford622
Ohio624
Benton600
Pike520
Parke511
Vermillion500
Switzerland450
Crawford440
Martin430
Union370
Warren221
Unassigned0202

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events