PLAINFIELD, Ind. — In many parts of the country, President Donald Trump’s sagging national popularity could be a liability for down-ballot Republicans.
But not here.
Trump carried the seat by 34 points in 2016. National Democrats are targeting several districts that voted for the president by margins just as big. But none of the Democratic candidates running here ended 2017 with more than $8,000, and Trump’s approval rating was above 80 percent in the district at the beginning of this year.
Three Republicans have commanded the most attention in the GOP primary. Each ended 2017 with at least $150,000 in the bank. And although they all use similar conservative rhetoric and say they support the president, each brings his own style to the field.
Watch: A Loyalty Contest for Trump in Indiana: GOP Senate Primary in Full Swing
The ex-Pence aide
Morales emigrated from Guatemala in 1999 and become a naturalized citizen in 2008. He sees himself as the only candidate who can help grow the GOP.
“We need a qualified diverse candidate — young, handsome … with drive and passion. So you see, I have all the perfect ingredients,” he said over coffee at the Flap-Jacks Pancake House here, where he repeatedly touted his work ethic.
But it’s his work history that has raised some doubts about his candidacy. Morales bills himself as a former senior adviser to Pence, but some of his responsibilities were more in line with those of an advance man.
An Associated Press review of state records last month concluded he was disciplined and eventually fired from government jobs for incomplete work, including from Rokita’s secretary of state office in 2009.
Morales said he had already submitted his resignation when he was fired. He dodged numerous questions about why his bosses thought his work was incomplete, blaming the AP story on his primary opponents and calling it “fake news.”
Although Morales has endorsements from former Pence chiefs of staff, none of the outside groups affiliated with Pence or the president that have spent for Pence’s brother in the open 6th District have spent any money for him. Morales ended 2017 with the most cash on hand and is advertising on cable TV. His general consultant is Kyle Robertson, who managed Pence’s 2012 gubernatorial campaign.
Former state Rep. Steve Braun is a Harvard-educated businessman who worked in Chicago and talks fluently about using data in business and politics.
Born in Jasper, he moved back to Indiana in 1997. He served just one term in the Legislature, before Pence appointed him head of the Department of Workforce Development. He lives two miles outside the 4th, in Zionsville, but owns farmland in the district.
Braun has been on broadcast and cable TV for the past month and could benefit from heavy TV advertising from his brother, Mike, who’s running for the GOP Senate nomination. Limestone Strategies is consulting on Braun’s campaign, while his brother’s consulting team is helping one of his opponents.
Like his brother, Braun has been criticized for having voted in Democratic primaries. He admits to having cast a ballot in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary as “operation chaos,” but he swears he can’t remember whom he chose.
The local politician
State Rep. Jim Baird is an Army veteran who lost his left arm in Vietnam and won two Purple Hearts.
He earned his doctorate at the University of Kentucky. He and his wife started a home health care agency and own several real estate and agricultural businesses in the area. When Baird was Putnam County commissioner, Gov. Mitch Daniels called him in 2010 to encourage him to run for the legislature.
He drives a red pickup truck emblazoned with “Baird for Congress.” His son Beau, who’s running for his father’s state House seat, describes them campaigning as “more like we’re out just seeing old friends.”
Baird said he hasn’t been in touch with the National Republican Congressional Committee, hasn’t done any polling and isn’t sure he’ll go on television. He loaned his campaign $200,000 and raised little else last year. He’s working with Indiana-based consulting firm Mark It Red, which is also working with Mike Braun in the Senate race.