Rep. Luke Messer and Rokita have been sparring out in the open for weeks, vying for the GOP nod to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2018. Even their Senate announcements seemed designed to try to out-do each other’s.
Rokita launched an announcement video Wednesday morning with the slogan, "Defeat the Elite." It ties Donnelly to former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and cast the Senate election as the next step toward reforming Washington, D.C.
"It started last year by electing President Trump and Vice President Pence. In 2018, take the next step, right here in Indiana," the narrator says.
And in an implicit knock against Messer, the narrator reminds viewers that Rokita's family still lives in Indiana. "Indiana is still home. Todd and Kathy are raising their children here." (Messer moved his family to D.C. when he came to Congress.)
Messer had long been expected to announce at his family’s annual barbecue in Morristown, Indiana, on Aug. 12. But after the Rokita camp pushed rumors about Messer getting cold feet, Messer made the bizarre decision to tweet his intention to run while Congress was still in session in D.C. last week. His official announcement will still take place at the barbecue Saturday.
Rokita’s timing seems designed to get out front of Messer’s rollout this weekend. The former Indiana secretary of state, Rokita was elected to represent the 4th District in 2010. He’s a vice chairman of the Budget Committee. The four-term member outraised Messer, a member of leadership, in the 2nd quarter, bringing in $1 million to Messer’s $578,000.
With few ideological differences between these two Wabash College alumni, the jousting has quickly turned personal. Rokita allies have gone after Messer’s residency and the $240,000 salary Messer’s wife receives for a part-time legal job from the city of Fishers.
In a state where President Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points and remains popular, both House members are vying for his support and that of Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana.
Pence’s brother, Greg Pence, is the finance chair of Messer’s campaign and is said to be a very active player in the campaign. He, rather than Messer, appeared in the 6th District congressman’s Senate announcement video last week. (Pence is also a potential candidate to succeed Messer in the 6th District.)
But the day after Messer announced his Senate campaign, Rokita’s team touted a letter of support from the Trump campaign’s Indiana State Chairman Rex Early and Vice Chairman Tony Samuel. While they stopped short of offering an official endorsement (because Rokita wasn’t yet officially in the race), their words spoke for themselves:
“Of the members of Indiana’s congressional delegation, Todd Rokita is the only one that actively and specifically campaigned for candidate Trump — never wavering and never jumping on and off the Trump Train.”
Both campaigns have released dueling polling. On Message Inc. conducted a poll for Messer in mid July that showed showed Messer and Rokita tied at 23 percent in a seven-way GOP primary. Head-to-head, Messer led Rokita 27 percent to 26 percent.
Hours after Messer announced his Senate campaign, Rokita’s consultants released their own numbers that showed Rokita leading Messer 21 percent to 14 percent in an eight-way GOP primary. In just a two-person matchup, Rokita led Messer 28 percent to 20 percent.
Other Republicans in the race include Kokomo lawyer Mark Hurt and state Rep. Mike Braun. State Sen. Mike Delph is considering it, while Attorney General Curtis Hill has been mentioned as well.