INDIANAPOLIS — After a bitter campaign, businessman and former state legislator Mike Braun won the Republican Party nomination Tuesday for U.S. Senate with about 41 percent of the statewide vote.
His two challengers, both U.S. representatives, were nearly equal in splitting the remaining 59 percent.
Braun will now face the Democratic i ncumbent, Sen. Joe Donnelly, in the November general election.
Nationally, Republicans are targeting Donnelly’s seat, figuring that he’s vulnerable in a state that voted strongly for Donald Trump for president in 2016.
Braun, whose business is in Jasper, portrayed himself as an outsider aligned with Trump’s policies.
“All along, I sensed
that people thought it just could not be done ... I think there was a lot of doubts,” Braun said in his victory speech Tuesday night.
“Many friends in Jasper ... they followed up with, ‘Do you need to have your head examined?’ ... But it really made sense that the pathway of getting folks that have made their career in the private sector, maybe that’s the kind of new dynamic we need in Washington,” Braun said.
As an often testy primary battle neared its end, the three candidates — Braun, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, IN-Dist. 4, and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, IN-Dist. 6 — visited polls mostly in suburban Indianapolis.
Braun spent Tuesday stumping in a whirlwind tour, stopping at a senior living subdivision in Fishers, a union hall in Terre Haute and the Zionsville Town Hall before heading to his victory party at a brewpub in Whitestown. He said he was ready to battle Donnelly, who was unchallenged in the primary.
“I would not have taken the first step in ... declaring in early August if I wasn’t ready to take on these two guys and Joe Donnelly,” Braun said while greeting voters at Zionsville Town Hall. “In building a business for 37 years, I’ve had to outmaneuver guys a lot quicker than all three of them.”
Braun was in Zionsville a few hours after President Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord.
On the Iran issue, Braun doubled down Tuesday on his support for the president.
“I trust Trump on whatever his decision is,” Braun said. “Sounds like he did exactly the right thing.”
By 8:45 p.m., Rokita conceded the race, followed within minutes by Messer. Both treated their speeches as farewells to the U.S. House. Messer called his service an “amazing blessing.”
By 8:55 p.m., the Indiana Republican Party used its Facebook page to congratulate Braun as the party’s nominee. GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer, who went to Braun’s celebration, thanked Messer and Rokita and noted that Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is in Israel, sent congratulations to Braun.
“This is the number one targeted race in the nation, and we’ve got the candidate,” Hupfer told the crowd as Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” served as Braun’s entry song.
Rokita and Messer, too, had consistently said in this campaign that they would support Trump.
“We need someone with the fight and the record to beat Joe Donnelly and defend our president, and I’m the one with that record,” Rokita said while stumping Tuesday in Brownsburg.
He recalled his days as Indiana secretary of state when he pushed for Hoosier voters to show photo IDs.
“Because of my statewide ballot exposure, I’m perfectly positioned to take on an incumbent senator,” Rokita said. “The other good thing is that Joe Donnelly is vulnerable. He votes with Bernie Sanders 85 percent of the time, and he’s out of step with Hoosiers.”
Rokita drove to a church polling site with his family in an American-flag detailed Hummer sporting a Defeat the Elite license plate, “Dft Elite.”
After voting in Greensburg, Messer visited a Republican- rich precinct at Geist Reservoir. His campaign signs were the only Senate appeals at the site. He arrived with his family and their 8-week-old puppy, Ollie.
Voters seemed relieved the bitter TV ads would end for a while.
“It’s hard to tell from the various ads who to vote for, but Rokita’s a name I know. ... Each of them seem to have things they say about the other, but the average voter doesn’t have much of a way to verify a lot of that,” said Michael Clouser of Brownsburg.
Faryal Sharif, of McCordsville, found a way around the Republican dilemma. She voted Democrat.
But she chatted briefly with Messer on Tuesday.
“I told him in this race I listened to their debate, and I heard a lot of who and who supports Trump, blah, blah, blah,” she recounted. “I don’t really care who supports Trump. I care who’s for Indiana.”