Braun defeats 2 GOP congressmen in Indiana Senate primary

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A wealthy former state lawmaker defeated two congressmen Tuesday in Indiana's Republican Senate primary, ending a bitter campaign dominated by personal attacks that drew national attention for its nasty tone.

Republican Mike Braun advances to a November matchup with Democrat Joe Donnelly, who is considered one of the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents.

It was an outcome few expected when Braun launched his campaign in August against the two well established political brands, who have collectively served about 25 years in elected office.

Braun credited his victory to voter disenchantment with "business as usual" and said he hoped to join other Republican senators who came from outside politics.

 "If we get enough of us there, I think we'll actually start to solve some of these issues that have been vexing politicians," Braun told cheering supporters.

The owner of a national auto parts distribution company, Braun used his own wealth to lend his campaign more than $5 million. He proceeded to carpet bomb television with ads characterizing himself as an "outsider" while portraying Messer and Rokita as two "swamp brothers" cut from the same cloth.

In one particularly effective ad, Braun walked around his hometown of Jasper carrying cardboard cutouts of Rokita and Messer in identical suits while asking bystanders if they could tell the two apart.

Tom Mote, 66, of Indianapolis voted for Braun because he campaigned as an "outsider" and was turned off by fighting between Messer and Rokita.

But he was less optimistic about his party's chances of beating Donnelly.

"Donnelly's been very low-key and not very controversial," said Mote. "It's a Republican state, but it's hard to beat an incumbent."

Now Messer, a darling of Indiana's GOP establishment, and Rokita, who has been in elected office since 2003, will both be out of jobs come next year, after giving up their safe Republican seats to run for Senate.

But after a brutal campaign fueled by damaging news stories about all three candidates, there was concern among some Republicans that enough damage was done to the party's brand to impact its chances against Donnelly.

All of the GOP candidates were the subject of unflattering news stories that have dredged up out-of-state living arrangements, questionable uses of tax dollars, drunken-driving convictions, voting histories and ethical transgressions.

At the same time, the three fell over one another to assert they'd be President Donald Trump's biggest ally in the Senate.

Rokita in particular tested whether a Republican candidate not named Trump could find success by adopting the president's over-the-top and confrontational style.

His campaign slogan was "Defeat the Elite," and he was seen in TV ads drinking beer, firing an AR-15 rifle and donning one of Trump's red "Make America Great Again" hats.

Messer, on the other hand, tried to rise above the fray, insisting that he was "laser focused" on defeating Donnelly while bemoaning the personal attacks. But he shed that approach months ago as his campaign struggled.

Despite the outsider image and blitz of TV advertising, Braun was dogged by his lengthy history voting as a Democrat in Indiana primary elections, which his opponents hammered for.

On Tuesday, Donnelly said he was more puzzled by Braun's claim of being an outsider, telling reporters, "as far as I know he served in the state legislature."

He also questioned the campaign's focus on loyalty to Trump, stating that his own campaign would be about issues like jobs and health care

"The people of Indiana are my boss," he said. "You don't work for the president, you don't work for a party — you work for the people of Indiana".

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