Indiana Republicans Aligned on Policy Clash in Primary

Senate candidate Mike Braun, right, speaks during the Indiana Republican Senate primary debate among Braun, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, Monday, April 30, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Two Indiana congressmen and a Hoosier State businessman with few policy differences are locked in a fierce GOP primary battle for the chance to run against one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators in November’s general election.

As Tuesday’s primary looms, the three Republicans, who differ very little on the issues, have turned to personal attacks and heaps of praise for President Donald Trump to make their cases to Indiana voters.

With the current seat being held by incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly, the election offers Republicans a real chance to gain ground in the U.S. Senate, as Trump easily carried the Hoosier State by 19 points in the 2016 election.

Given the high stakes, each candidate has tried to paint themselves as the most pro-Trump.

Luke Messer, who represents Indiana’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, touts himself as a staunch Trump supporter and claims that “President Trump needs a conservative ally in the United States Senate.”

Messer has been very vocal about his belief that Trump should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, following recent peace talks between North and South Korea.

Messer has also levied heavy attacks against one opponent, Indiana businessman Mike Braun, by blasting him for voting as a Democrat in local primaries for many years and for not donating to Republican political campaigns in the past.

Braun, a self-labeled “outsider,” has used millions of his own dollars to fund his campaign. He characterizes Messer and their other opponent, Todd Rokita, as “establishment” Republicans.

Rokita represents Indiana’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, and can be seen in his ads donning boxing gloves and wearing a red “MAGA” hat made popular by Trump.

In this April 30, 2018, photo, Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., speaks during the Indiana Republican Senate primary debate in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)

A strong supporter of the National Rifle Association, Rokita has also echoed the president’s support for building a wall on the southern border of the United States. He uses the campaign slogan “Defeat the Elite.”

Rokita wants to make English the country’s official language, a move he claims would “unify us.”

Braun, who routinely debated his opponents without the normal political uniform of a suit and tie, argues his experience in building Meyer Distributing into a national company makes him the most like Trump.

In debates and interviews, Braun has accused his two opponents of essentially being the same person, and used one ad to make his point.

In the ad, Braun uses two cardboard cut-outs of Rokita and Messer, both dressed in suits with red ties, and posits they are practically indistinguishable from one another.

Despite the ad being aimed at Rokita and Messer, its message could be seen as ringing true of the whole campaign, as all three candidates are strikingly similar.

The three men all repeatedly praise President Trump, and during their third debate all three candidates dodged a question about whether they disagreed with the president on any issues.

The candidates even attended the same private all-male liberal arts school, Wabash College, which is located in Crawfordsville, Ind.

They also share pro-gun and anti-abortion stances, and rarely pass up the chance to swipe at Senator Donnelly for voicing opposition to many of Trump’s policies.

With little to no substantive policy differences, the trio has relied on verbal jabs and character criticisms to bring one another down.

For instance, it was reported earlier this year that in his first successful run for public office, Messer did not disclose two drunken-driving convictions. At the time, Messer was vying to replace an Indiana state representative who had been killed by a drunk driver.

Braun has faced heavy criticism for his work as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives in securing tax breaks for the timber industry, which his opponents say directly benefited his logging interests.

In addition, Braun has had to defend his long history of voting as a Democrat in local primaries. Braun has responded by saying he is a lifelong Republican but in his home town of Jasper, elections used to be decided in the Democratic primaries, and his votes were simply to influence local affairs.

Rokita faced backlash in 2013 for a CNN interview with anchor Carol Costello, where he twice commented on her looks, once saying, “Carol, you’re beautiful, but you have to be honest as well.”

Despite the candidates’ personal histories, past gaffes or voting records, the race remains a relative tossup.

A recent poll shows Braun up 10 points over Rokita, and 13 points up on Messer. However, the Gravis Marketing poll notes that 45 percent of respondents admitted they were undecided.

The survey of 411 likely Indiana voters showed both Rokita and Messer would likely lose in a one-on-one race against Senator Donnelly in the general election.

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