By Jim Ellis
April 6, 2018 — Now just over a month before the May 8 Indiana Republican Senate primary, the three major candidates are simultaneously hitting the airwaves.
Not surprisingly in campaigning before the Hoosier State GOP electorate, each contender is trying to make the case that they are strongly conservative, pro-Trump, and anti-Washington. Though Vice President Mike Pence obviously hails from Indiana, surprisingly only one of the three new ads mentions him in the midst of each man doing his best to stake out the position furthest to the right.
Mike Braun’s ad
Though the campaign strategies of Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette), Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie), and former state Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper) appear similar, each has his own clear angle. With little polling available, and none from the immediate past, it appears the electorate is in store for a mad dash to the political finish line.
Braun’s ad (above) takes the most unique position. While the other two candidates began with greater name identification, support, and financial bases, the former state representative’s personal wealth has allowed him to advertise early in order to make this a legitimate three-way race. His strategy is to turn the multi-candidate contest into a one-on-one campaign by establishing himself as the individual opposing both congressmen, which, in his past ads, describes them as being so interchangeable that few can tell them apart.
Braun’s new spot doesn’t mention his two opponents, but concentrates on driving home his conservative “Hoosier values.” The current Braun ad is a subtle response to the Rokita attacks, which repeatedly emphasize that Braun is a former Democrat who voted in that party’s 2008 presidential primary, hence Rokita’s line about Braun saying, “He voted for either Obama or Hillary. Wow.”
Rep. Todd Rokita’s ad
Rep. Rokita has run the most hard-hitting of the three campaigns, and draws the most distinct contrast between himself and his two opponents (see ad above). Rokita is even going as far as to say he will not attend the statewide PBS pre-primary television debate because of the organization’s liberal and anti-Trump bias.
Rep. Messer is adopting the softer approach with his latest ad (below), a spot that features his mother. Though he succeeded the Vice President as the 6th District Congressman, and the older Pence brother, Greg Pence, was the Messer campaign finance chairman before deciding to run for Congress, himself, it is the Rokita ad that highlights his support of the hometown VP.
Rep. Luke Messer’s ad
Rokita is also the only one in the latest ad rollout to mention the eventual Democratic opponent, first-term Sen. Joe Donnelly, and to run a clear contrast message, while the other two concentrate on emphasizing their conservative credentials.
All three campaigns are well funded, and each will spend several million apiece in order to claim the nomination. The eventual winner will then immediately pivot into a race against Sen. Donnelly, and a campaign where the Republican will concentrate less on securing his far right flank, and more on moving toward the center while keeping their recently won support base in tact.
The final month of this campaign will certainly be worth watching.