Businessman and former state Rep. Mike Braun won the Republican nod for Senate in Indiana on Tuesday. He’ll take on Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly in one of the most competitive races in the country.
Outspending his opponents, Braun defeated Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer to win the nomination. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Braun had 41 percent of the vote to 30 percent for Messer and 29 percent for Rokita, according to The Associated Press.
The three candidates, all of whom graduated from Wabash College, attacked each other in what was one of the nastiest GOP primaries in the country. In a state that President Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016, all tried to prove their loyalty to him.
But it was Braun, who embraced Trump’s outsider and businessman profile, who broke through. Largely self-funding his campaign, he had the money to blanket the airwaves. By the end of the pre-primary reporting period, he’d loaned his campaign $5.5 million.
He defined his two opponents as career politicians, and made an early play at separating himself by showing up to their first debate without wearing a suit, while Messer and Rokita sported nearly matching jackets and ties.
In one memorable ad, Braun carried around cardboard cutouts of his opponents and asked people to try to distinguish between the two.
Messer and Rokita accused him of being a Democrat since he voted in Democratic primaries for more than a decade and voted for a gas tax increase in the Legislature (that a Republican governor signed).
Braun was elected as a Republican to the state House in 2014 and resigned last fall to focus on his Senate campaign. He’s argued that conservatives in southern Indiana had to vote in Democratic primaries if they wanted to have a say in local government and denies having weighed in on any federal races in Democratic primaries.
He’s also been attacked for taking votes in the state Legislature that enriched himself and his business, which are likely to come up again in the general election. Democrats are also expected to go after his business record at Meyer Distributing.
Braun ended the pre-primary reporting period with $1.3 million in the bank, but he likely has more of his own resources to pour into a race. Donnelly ended the same reporting period with $6.3 million on hand.