By Jim Ellis
Aug. 11, 2017 — Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) is generally considered to be the first or second national Republican conversion target, and the GOP candidates are beginning to come forward.
Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) announced, as expected, his run for the Senate and immediately pressed the attack before his supporters to “Defeat the Elite,” a phrase that he defines as pertaining to “lobbyists, bureaucrats, politicians and the media.”
Rokita was first elected to the House in 2010 after serving two terms as Indiana’s secretary of state. He averaged 65.5 percent in his four congressional elections, and leaves his western 4th District as a safe Republican seat.
The announcement creates a major Republican primary with fellow Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) and state Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper). Messer tweeted about two weeks ago that he will soon become a Senate candidate with a formal announcement to follow.
Both Rokita and Messer have already raised impressive amounts for the coming statewide election. The former brought in $1.36 million since the beginning of the year through June 30, and has over $2.35 million in the bank. The latter House member raised a similar $1.28 million and has $2.03 million cash-on-hand. State Rep. Braun, just announcing this week, is not yet required to file a campaign disclosure report.
The primary race will feature two congressmen running head-on against each other, with state Rep. Braun attempting to become the alternative candidate for those who want to reject two candidates who will inevitably run tough and decidedly negative campaigns.
Once the May 2018 primary occurs and an eventual Republican nominee is determined, the race against Sen. Donnelly will begin. With this type of an early candidate lineup, the GOP is assured of fielding a strong Indiana Senate candidate. Just how viable or weakened that nominee will be after coming through a bruising primary could go a long way in determining just how successful the Donnelly challenge may be before what is normally a strongly Republican voting state.
Six-term Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell) announced that she will not seek re-election next year, becoming the 20th regular election cycle incumbent and eighth Democrat who will leave the House at the end of the 2017-18 congressional session.
The 3rd District, which covers a part of northeastern Massachusetts and contains the cities of Haverhill, Lawrence, Andover, Lowell, Marlborough, Gardner and Westminster, is a generally reliable Democratic district but one that has strayed to Republicans in statewide contests. For any Republican to win here, such as Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in seeking re-election next year, the 3rd District must be one of the seats to fall their way. Even in 2012 when Elizabeth Warren unseated Sen. Scott Brown (R) she failed to carry the 3rd District, thus underscoring that a strong Republican candidate can become a viable factor here in a general election.
Tsongas, the widow of former US Senator and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas (D), won the special election for what was then the 5th District in 2007 after then-Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Lowell) resigned the seat to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
This unexpected retirement announcement will quickly lead to a very active open-seat campaign. We will see crowded party primaries that will last all the way through mid-September of next year, followed by a short general election cycle. Democrats will be favored to hold the seat, as they do in all Massachusetts districts, but a Republican upset must be considered as at least possible.