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Republicans focus on beating Donnelly in November election


Gary Saunders, the Wayne County Republican Party chair, submits his ballot at a Congress of Counties U.S. Senate Republican straw poll on Saturday. All six Republican candidates mentioned the importance of beating Senator Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.   Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

INDIANAPOLIS — Republican Senate candidates have one focus for the upcoming 2018 election: beating Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. 

Despite differences on policy, all six Republican candidates present at an Indiana Republican Congress of Counties event Saturday mentioned the need to beat Donnelly in November. 

The event at the Crowne Plaza Downtown Indianapolis, organized by the Indiana Republican Party, brought together six Republican candidates for the United States Senate in a two-day event culminating in a straw poll. Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th District, beat longtime rival Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th District, by 65 votes, with Messer receiving 147 and Rokita receiving 82.

“The question before us really is do we, do you want to beat Joe Donnelly?” Rokita said in his opening remarks.

The straw poll was open to any Republican Hoosiers who bought a ticket. Attendees voted for who they would most likely support in the May 8 primary. A straw poll does not decide anything, but it can in theory give candidates an idea of where they currently stand. 

Out of 326 votes, Mike Braun received 36, Mark Hurt received 29, Andrew Takami received 20 and Andrew Horning received 12.

Before attendees voted, each candidate got the chance to address the crowd. Each discussed why they would be the best candidate to move forward to the 2018 November election, and most focused on why they thought they could beat Donnelly. 

Rokita and Messer both criticized Donnelly’s voting pattern. 

Messer mentioned similarities between Donnelly's voting record and that of other Democrats. 

“Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren are wrong way more than 15 percent of the time,” Messer said. 

Messer added Indiana residents need someone who votes the way they do.

“We need a U.S. senator who votes like a Hoosier in Washington,” Messer said.

Rokita agreed. In his remarks, he said Donnelly does not vote in the interest of Indiana residents when it matters, such as the final Affordable Care Act vote. 

"He is always with us when it doesn't matter," Rokita said.

Hurt, who came in fourth place, said one of the main reasons why he entered the race was the way Donnelly voted, specifically his support for the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

“Joe Donnelly can’t walk away from that,” Hurt said. “He needs to be held accountable.”

Rokita also focused on the qualities that would make him the best fit to beat Donnelly. Halfway through his remarks, Rokita put on a red Make America Great Again hat. The Republican party needs a pro-Trump candidate in order to win in November, Rokita said. 

He added that being from Northwest Indiana, where many residents of Lake County vote Democrat, he knows how to beat Democrats. 

He also said in order to win, it’s important to live in Indiana, an apparent subtle dig at Messer, whose family moved to Virginia when he was elected to serve in Congress. Living in the state he represents makes him a better leader and a better fighter, Rokita said.

Messer declined to respond to criticism from Rokita, a fellow graduate of Wabash College. 

“Listen — our campaign’s focused on my record, how we unite the Indiana Republican party and beat Joe Donnelly," Messer said in an interview. "Right now I’m not responding to other people’s attacks.”

While he emphasized the importance of a candidate being able to beat Donnelly, Messer also said there is a second thing a candidate needs to be able to do. 

“We need to come together as a party in order to win,” Messer said.

Jesse Naranjo contributed reporting.

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