INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A wealthy former state lawmaker defeated two congressmen Tuesday in
Indiana’s Republican Senate primary, ending a bitter campaign dominated by
personal attacks that drew national attention for its nasty tone.
Braun advances to a November matchup with Democrat Joe Donnelly, who is
considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents.
It was an outcome
few expected when Braun launched his campaign in August against the two well
established political brands, who have collectively served about 25 years in
Braun credited his
victory to voter disenchantment with “business as usual” and said he hoped
to join other Republican senators who came from outside politics.
“If we get enough
of us there, I think we’ll actually start to solve some of these issues that
have been vexing politicians,” Braun told cheering supporters.
The owner of a
national auto parts distribution company, Braun used his own wealth to lend
his campaign more than $5 million. He proceeded to carpet bomb television
with ads characterizing himself as an “outsider” while portraying Messer and
Rokita as two “swamp brothers” cut from the same cloth.
In one particularly
effective ad, Braun walked around his hometown of Jasper carrying cardboard
cutouts of Rokita and Messer in identical suits while asking bystanders if
they could tell the two apart.
Tom Mote, 66, of
Indianapolis voted for Braun because he campaigned as an “outsider” and was
turned off by fighting between Messer and Rokita.
But he was less
optimistic about his party’s chances of beating Donnelly.
very low-key and not very controversial,” said Mote. “It’s a Republican
state, but it’s hard to beat an incumbent.”
Now Messer, a
darling of Indiana’s GOP establishment, and Rokita, who has been in elected
office since 2003, will both be out of jobs come next year, after giving up
their safe Republican seats to run for Senate.
But after a brutal
campaign fueled by damaging news stories about all three candidates, there
was concern among some Republicans that enough damage was done to the
party’s brand to impact its chances against Donnelly.
All of the GOP
candidates were the subject of unflattering news stories that have dredged
up out-of-state living arrangements, questionable uses of tax dollars,
drunken-driving convictions, voting histories and ethical transgressions.
At the same time,
the three fell over one another to assert they’d be President Donald Trump’s
biggest ally in the Senate.
particular tested whether a Republican candidate not named Trump could find
success by adopting the president’s over-the-top and confrontational style.
His campaign slogan
was “Defeat the Elite,” and he was seen in TV ads drinking beer, firing an
AR-15 rifle and donning one of Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” hats.
Messer, on the
other hand, tried to rise above the fray, insisting that he was “laser
focused” on defeating Donnelly while bemoaning the personal attacks. But he
shed that approach months ago as his campaign struggled.
outsider image and blitz of TV advertising, Braun was dogged by his lengthy
history voting as a Democrat in Indiana primary elections, which his
opponents hammered for.
Donnelly said he was more puzzled by Braun’s claim of being an outsider,
telling reporters, “as far as I know he served in the state legislature.”
He also questioned
the campaign’s focus on loyalty to Trump, stating that his own campaign
would be about issues like jobs and health care
“The people of
Indiana are my boss,” he said. “You don’t work for the president, you don’t
work for a party - you work for the people of Indiana".