INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – In an Indiana primary race that saw more personal attacks and praise for President Donald Trump than debate over policy, a self-described political outsider edged out two Republican congressmen on Tuesday for the chance to take on a vulnerable Democratic senator this fall.
Businessman Mike Braun will go head-to-head with incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly in November’s general election after winning the GOP primary election against Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita.
Braun took 41 percent of the vote, while Rokita got about 30 percent and Messer 29 percent.
Donnelly is considered one of the more vulnerable Democrats in November’s general election, as Indiana leans Republican and went for President Trump by 19 points in the 2016 election.
Donnelly is no typical Democrat. He votes with President Trump’s position about half the time. However, that is unlikely to garner him any favors from the president, who openly threatened Donnelly over tax reform last year.
“If Senator Donnelly doesn’t approve it, because, you know, he’s on the other side, we will come here, we will campaign against him like you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said at an Indianapolis rally last September.
Donnelly did not support the tax plan, and Trump has already scheduled a rally for Thursday in South Bend, Ind.
Despite the state’s strong lean to the right, the Indiana Senate race is likely to be a tough fight and is rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report, a website that tracks campaigns and elections.
The Republican primary race was mostly defined by personal attacks instead of policy differences, as each candidate was anti-abortion, pro-gun rights and pro-Trump. Much of the campaign was dedicated to emulating and praising President Trump.
Messer repeatedly called himself a Trump ally and authored a formal letter nominating the president for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I’m proud to nominate President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize,” Messer said in a statement. “The President’s strong leadership is the only reason North Korea is now coming to the table and he deserves recognition for this unprecedented progress towards peace.”
Rokita donned Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat in his ads and campaigned with the slogan “Defeat the Elite.”
Braun took a different approach by relying on his background as a successful businessman to show similarities to the president.
During debates and throughout the campaign, Braun repeatedly hammered the idea that he has real-world experience and is a political outsider, despite his three years serving in the Indiana State House.
Braun – who, like his opponents, attended the private all-male liberal arts school Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. – painted Messer and Rokita as essentially the same person and even dubbed them the “swamp brothers.”
Despite his relatively low political profile, Braun was seen as the frontrunner, with recent polling showing him up 10 points over Rokita and 13 over Messer.
Messer wanted to be seen as the most trustworthy candidate, and Rokita often said he was only one that could beat Donnelly in November.
Messer and Rokita both criticized Braun’s previous political record, which showed no major donations to Republican political campaigns and a history of voting as a Democrat in local political primaries.
Rokita congratulated Braun during his concession speech, but did not miss the chance for a parting shot.
“Not every fight is fair. Not every candidate can stroke a personal $6 million check, but that’s life,” Rokita said. “I hope [Braun] will rise to the occasion and truly fight for this state. I know he has it in him, and not just wage an expensive media campaign to buy a Senate seat, only to keep Washington at the status quo. We can’t afford it.”
During his victory speech, Braun expressed excitement in joining other Republican senators who had come from outside the political realm.
“If you get enough of us there, we’ll actually start to solve some of these issues that have been vexing politicians for a long time,” Braun said.