Indiana: Wild and Entertaining

By Jim Ellis

April 20, 2018 — A new Gravis Marketing survey (April 6-11; 411 likely Indiana voters) produced a result in the Senate Republican primary ballot test that appears to have even surprised the pollsters.

The sample size of 411 likely voters includes all parties, so looking only at the GOP primary means the respondent cell size could number less than 200. This would make the results largely meaningless because the sampling universe would be too small to draw reasonably accurate conclusions. Gravis did not release the sampling numbers associated with the Republican primary questions, likely for obvious reasons.

But the results are interesting, nonetheless, and could give us a clue that former state Rep. Mike Braun, whose creative advertising has not only attracted attention but is strategically brilliant (see below), has a real chance to upset Republican congressmen Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) and Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/ Muncie). According to the Gravis results, Braun leads Reps. Rokita and Messer 26-16-13 percent in anticipation of the May 8 Indiana state primary.

The Senate GOP primary turned into a three-way race almost from day one. Braun, then a state representative who would resign his seat to concentrate on the Senate campaign, owns a successful manufacturing business and spent heavily early to become known statewide.

As the campaign began, the thinking was that Rokita and Messer would target one another, assuming that both would view the other as his chief competitor. For Braun, it was believed that he would adopt the approach of staying above the negative fray and giving Republican voters an alternative from two individuals who would engage in what would likely become a bitter campaign.

But, Braun chose a different course, and his strategic decision appears to be positioning himself to potentially score an upset win. Braun’s advertising has created a clear contrast between he and his opponents by making the two of them one. He continually lumps them in the same congressional box, and points out that they vote, and even look, the same.

His first widely distributed video concentrating on his two opponents featured Braun carrying life-size cardboard placards of Reps. Rokita and Messer, both dressed in a blue suit with red ties and each giving the thumbs up sign. Though Messer and Rokita are not the same height, the cardboard placards made them appear as such. The visual was Braun carrying the placards to conduct man-on-the-street interviews, asking if the respondent could identify the pictured individuals. Of course, the people starring in the video could not, giving Braun the opportunity of sharing with them how both congressmen have together voted either for or against a series of issues with which Braun disagrees.

The new Braun Campaign television ad, released just this week (see below), continues his theme of attacking his opponents as one. This time, Rokita and Messer are characterized as the “Swamp Brothers” who voted “for the Obama trade deals, billions in new debt, funded Planned Parenthood, and supported the Obama executive amnesty program.”

For his part, Rep. Rokita is wrapping himself around President Trump and Indiana’s own Vice President Mike Pence. He is attempting to characterize himself as the most conservative candidate in the race, going so far as to say he won’t participate in the late Indiana PBS candidates’ debate because of the outlet’s liberal bias (he’s likely to change his mind about appearing). Both Rokita and Messer, who is running a more traditional Republican campaign and may well be getting lost in the shuffle, are now starting to directly fight back against Braun’s attacks, hitting him as a former Democrat who voted for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the 2008 primary.

It looks like we are headed for quite a finish in the Hoosier State. The winner will then challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) who the Gravis poll puts well ahead of Rokita and Messer in general election ballot tests. Curiously, Braun was not tested against Sen. Donnelly, possibly because the pollsters didn’t expect him to be leading their own survey.

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