LEBANON, Ind. — If it weren’t for the last name and a slight physical resemblance, it’d be easy to forget that Mike and Steve Braun — both running for federal office in Indiana this year — are brothers.
Mike is seeking the Republican Senate nomination. Steve is bidding for the GOP nod in the open 4th District, which Rep. Todd Rokita is vacating to run for Senate.
Both are wealthy businessmen-turned-state legislators running in what are essentially three-way Republican primaries. But as far as their campaigns go, that’s where the similarities end.
Mike’s consulting team, the Indiana-based Mark It Red, has been working with one of Steve’s primary opponents in the 4th District. Steve maxed out his contribution to Rokita’s Senate campaign, although he hasn’t endorsed in the primary.
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Keeping their distance
The brothers don’t campaign together. They’ve appeared at just two of the same GOP events. At the Cass County Lincoln Day Dinner last month, they left with each other’s gray coats and took three weeks to return them.
Even after introducing himself as a candidate in the 4th District, Steve said people have asked him how he’s different from Rokita and Rep. Luke Messer, his brother’s opponents in the Senate primary. Mike’s early TV ads in the Indianapolis market may have boosted Steve’s name recognition, but overall, Steve called the phenomenon of running at the same time as his brother a political “net neutral.”
“My network is very different from my brother’s network and probably more closely aligns with Messer’s and Rokita’s. So a lot of people that normally would support me don’t because my brother’s running,” Steve said.
Both are running on their business experience, but Mike is running as more of an anti-establishment outsider in the mold of President Donald Trump. Steve isn’t afraid to admit he learned more in his two years in the Legislature than he did at any other two-year period in his life.
Mike speaks with a gravelly voice, and he’s fully leaned into his decision not to wear a suit and tie for his first Senate debate. Steve comes off as more polished and mild-mannered. He showed up to a radio interview in Indianapolis in a crisp black suit and white shirt. Back in the 4th District that afternoon, he drove a Porsche to an interview at Cracker Barrel. Mike says he drives a used pickup truck.
“We still play cards together, but I’m a hunter and fisherman,” Mike said here last week at Bekah’s Westside Cafe, where he’d held an event in his brother’s district. “He is probably a guy that likes to play cards more than that, let’s put it that way,” Mike said of his brother.
Both were senior class presidents at Jasper High School. But like the two other men in the GOP Senate primary, Mike went to Wabash College in Indiana. Steve wasn’t interested in an all-male school. He went to Harvard for undergrad. Mike went to Harvard for business school.
After Harvard, Mike moved back to Jasper, and Steve went into business in Chicago. Steve eventually moved his family back to Indiana and now lives in Zionsville, which is two miles outside the 4th District.
“I changed my title on LinkedIn from CEO of Braun Consulting to gentleman farmer,” Steve said. His farm is in Whitestown, which is in the 4th District.
Southern Indiana used to be conservative Democratic territory, and both brothers’ opponents have attacked them for voting in Democratic primaries. Mike denies ever having cast a ballot in a Democratic primary for a federal race. Steve said he voted in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary as “operation chaos.” But he swears he can’t remember whom he picked.
Their sister Janet, a retired teacher, remembers Mike as the one who was interested in helping on campaigns from an early age. But it was Steve who first ran for office. He was elected to the state House in 2012 and joined Gov. Mike Pence’s cabinet in 2014 as head of the Department of Workforce Development.
When Steve was in the state Legislature, Mike reached out because he was thinking of getting involved in politics too. Steve advised his brother to run for the state House.
“And he said, ‘Nah, I don’t think so. I want to do something else,’” Steve recalled.
“So six months later, I look in the local paper and he’s running for the state rep. seat. So he didn’t even call me, he just decided to do it,” Steve said laughing.
Steve contributed to Rokita’s Senate campaign, though he did so before his brother jumped into the race. Mike had talked about running, but Steve didn’t think he would actually do it.
“I just thought it was a very big hill to climb and that there would probably have to be a lot of his own money spent, and he’s one of the tightest guys I know,” Steve said.
Mike had spent $3.2 million of his own money on his Senate campaign by the end of 2017 and likely millions more since.