INDIANAPOLIS – The growing, spiteful GOP primary drew the attention of reporters across the state this weekend, as the fight between Congressmen Rokita and Messer grew on a number of fronts. Both nascent campaigns are now bickering over which candidate has closer ties to President Trump, after the campaign’s Indiana co-chairs published a letter on Congressman Rokita’s strong support of Trump. Greg Pence, Vice President Pence’s brother and Congressman Messer’s campaign’s Finance Chair, pushed back and asserted Congressman Messer’s bona fides.
It’s the latest battle in a campaign that has already included everything from campaign emails to Wikipedia pages, and it’s likely to get only more intense as Congressman Rokita prepares to join Congressman Messer with his official entry into the campaign.
Can you hear the Gipper’s voice from the wayback machine? “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
It was former California Republican Chairman Gaylord Parkinson who coined the phrase, and it became President Reagan’s mantra. What we’re seeing on an almost hourly basis, from the emerging Indiana U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita, Luke Messer to the White House, is a complete abrogation of the concept. The Grand Old Party and its “big tent” are being replaced with virulent fratricide.
Messer announced this past Wednesday he would enter the Senate race and pose a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly next year. It came after weeks of needling by Rokita, who conducted a whisper campaign against Messer that he actually lives in an affluent Washington suburb, and took aim his wife’s lucrative legal work for the city of Fishers where she makes about $20,000 a month. The rumor mill spun that Meser might skip the race to stay on a House leadership track where he is fifth in ranking. There was an IndyStar story about how Rokita’s line of attack against Messer had been edited into the latter’s Wikipedia page.
The race shaping up between Rokita and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, who succeeded Mike Pence in the 6th District, already is slathered in personal slights, with the promise of more to come as they position themselves to take on Democrat Joe Donnelly in November.
It’s clear that when they take a break from calling the other “unhinged” – yes, both campaigns have lobbed that word at the other at some point – they’ll be chasing the Trump vote, trying to out-Trump the other in so many ways.
“It’s clear that (Rokita) will do and say almost anything to advance his political career,” Messer recently wrote to his supporters.
Here in the 4th District, that rings true. Saying anything has always been right in Rokita’s wheelhouse. In a statewide race with huge national implications, the rest of Indiana is about to find that out, too.
Just one day after Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) announced his intention to join the U.S. Senate race in 2018, his likely primary opponent was praised in a controversial letter written by the two men who chaired last year’s Indiana Trump campaign, creating a potential rift between some loyalists of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The letter, written by 2016 state campaign chair Rex Early and vice chairman Tony Samuel, was sent to a mailing list of Trump supporters, and praised Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) for being “the one potential (Senate) candidate to stand with President Trump unapologetically.”
The Messer campaign has pushed back on that assertion, disputing the notion that Messer has not stood with the President. And with many Pence loyalists supporting Messer’s campaign, it’s created an interesting dynamic ahead of what could be a bruising primary next year.
Coming off a dominant performance in the 2016 election cycle, thanks in large part to Donald Trump’s dismantling of the Democrat Party in Indiana, it is now Republicans who have to be concerned about 2018.
Despite seven years of promising to dismantle Obamacare, President Trump and the Republican controlled U.S. Senate and House have imploded over the health care issue.
Also on the horizon for the GOP is a bruising primary battle for the nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Donnelly is viewed in Indiana as a moderate and has continually shown a willingness to work with Republicans and has encouraged bipartisan cooperation on a health care bill.
This will make the third consecutive primary for the Senate nomination that GOP voters will be divided.
Bubbling under the surface of the Republican Senate primary between two Indiana congressmen is a fight over who’s a stronger supporter of President Trump.
Todd Rokita endorsed Marco Rubio in last year’s presidential primary, while Luke Messer backed Jeb Bush. They’ve both supported Trump once he clinched the nomination, but Rokita has gone out of his way to praise Trump in office, repeatedly emphasizing his support for Trump’s agenda in statements from his congressional office. Trump’s Indiana campaign chairs rewarded him this week with a letter to the campaign’s mailing list proclaiming Rokita the only potential candidate whose support has been unwavering.
Rokita says the depth of the candidates’ support for Trump should be an issue in the primary and in the general election against Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly. He calls Trump “the leader the country needs,” and vows to remind voters of his support.
… Overall, the two sides a virtually tied, meaning we could be in for a long, protracted, ground war.
So what does this all mean? Well, the good news is also the bad news for both candidates. Each side is relatively evenly matched, politically speaking, so no one is going away. Also, the only people paying close attention to this is the political class and guys like me. And while the state and national folks are privately expressing some concern about the infighting, no one is hitting the panic button just yet.