Trump-Emulating Businessman Wins Indiana Senate Primary To Face Joe Donnelly

UNITED STATES - APRIL 4: Mike Braun, center, who is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Indiana, attends the Kosciusko County Republican Fish Fry in Warsaw, Ind., on April 4, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group

A wealthy businessman who borrowed President Trump’s outsider message and bear-hugged the president has won the three-way primary to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) this fall, a crucial battle for Senate control.

Mike Braun, a former state representative who spent millions of his own money on the race, led the field with 41 percent of the vote when CNN and NBC called the race shortly after 8 p.m. EST.  Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) were both hovering just under 30 percent.

“From the beginning our message has been pretty simple – we need more outsiders and less career politicians in Washington. More folks that have done something in the real world,” Braun said in a statement after his win. “Senator Donnelly is just another career politician who has spent nearly his entire career in politics and government. When he’s in Indiana he acts like one of us, but in Washington he votes against us, against President Trump and in lockstep with the Democrats.”

Braun vastly outspent his opponents on the race, running ads highlighting his business record and one particularly effective spot with cardboard cutouts of Messer and Rokita where he asked voters if they could tell one from the other (spoiler alert: they couldn’t).

All three bear-hugged Trump in the conservative state — Rokita ran ads pledging to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” against Trump, while Messer called for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Messer and Rokita attacked Braun for his past votes in Democratic primaries. But Braun’s strong ads and outsider brand were enough to push past the two longtime lawmakers and get over his

He’ll square off now against Donnelly in a state Trump won by 19 percentage points in 2016.

Most close to Donnelly preferred to face Rokita but weren’t strongly in favor of one candidate over the other, and see an opening attacking Braun on his business ties. As the Associated Press recently reported, Braun’s company buys many foreign products and he’s been accused of treating his workers poorly. Those attacks will go against the GOP’s ideological hits on Donnelly for voting against the GOP’s tax cuts and for his family company’s ties to Mexico.

Donnelly’s campaign focused on the positive, mentioning the bills he’s passed that Trump has signed and not mentioning Braun.

“It’s clear [Indiana voters] want a champion for working families in the Senate – one who’ll work hard and reach across the aisle to protect their access to affordable health care, defend Medicare and Social Security, and keep good-paying jobs here in Indiana,” Donnelly campaign manager Peter Hanscom said in a statement.

But Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody promised that “Hoosiers will come to understand why Rep. Braun funded his own primary campaign with the profits he made from importing auto parts from China at the expense of Hoosier workers: because he believes public office is his best opportunity to put his wallet first, and Hoosiers last.  ”

The race will be a key one in deciding whether Democrats have a shot at winning the Senate. Donnelly is one of 10 Democrats running for reelection in states Trump won in 2016, and one of five in states he won by a wide margin.

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