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Republican congressman, senate candidate seeks to position himself as Washington outsider


Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th District, speaks at a meet-and-greet Saturday at Gentry Park Bloomington Senior Living Community. The former Indiana secretary of state is one of the multiple Republicans running to eventually unseat Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

The congressman’s voice echoed off the walls and ceiling of a common room in the Gentry Park Bloomington Senior Living Community.

He’d come to talk about his Senate campaign and from the looks of it on Saturday morning, at least 10 Monroe County Republicans had come to listen.

Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th District, spent the weekend campaigning for next year’s Senate primary. The winner hopes to unseat incumbent Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly in an election many analysts have rated a toss-up. The Munster, Indiana native spent the first half of the weekend making stops in Martinsville, Lafayette, Hammond and his hometown, among other Indiana towns.

His appearance Saturday was the second event of the day in Bloomington. Earlier that morning he held a town hall with the Grassroots Conservatives of Bloomington at the Monroe County Public Library. 

In an interview after the main GOP event, Rokita said he was confident about the upcoming primary.

“We have our head down, we’re working hard,” Rokita said. “As you’ve heard, we’re going to drive 600 miles this weekend alone in seven cities. We take our case right to the people and it’s having the right result.”

Rokita used much of his time Saturday discussing redistricting reform and his potential to defeat Donnelly in the general election next fall. 

Like President Trump, the congressman positions himself as a Washington, D.C. outsider. 

When elected as the youngest secretary of state at the time in 2002, Rokita told the crowd, members of the Republican establishment told him acting on his campaign promises would embarrass them and hurt their brand.

At another point he criticized other members of his own party, including one primary challenger, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th District, a fellow graduate of Wabash College, who Rokita has accused in the past of being a fair-weather Trump supporter. 

Staff for Messer's campaign confirmed Tuesday that the congressman voted for Trump in the Indiana primary last year.

“If that Republican establishment intelligencia had their day, you would’ve had Hillary Clinton as president,” Rokita said.

But Rokita said instead of worrying about the “Jeff Flakes of the world,” his audience’s energy would be best focused on defeating Democrats in the general election. Like other Republicans who have sought to position Donnelly as a liberal Democrat, Rokita compared the senior senator’s voting record to that of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. 

Donnelly is considered one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, but voted along with with the rest of his party and a single Republican senator against the Republican tax bill, which passed 51-49 early Saturday morning. Rokita said in his remarks that by doing so, Donnelly went against Hoosier values.

Rokita told the IDS the tax overhaul being pushed in Congress was targeted and would help middle- and lower-class Americans. 

“I think President Trump right now, if he was in this interview, would say this is for the forgotten men and women that elected him president,” Rokita said.

Rokita was introduced by Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis, who confirmed Monday that he would not be endorsing a primary candidate, as is customary for local party officers.

Similar to many of his fellow party members, especially Trump, Rokita is a fierce opponent of sanctuary cities. He announced Monday potential legislation which would impose a 5-year, $1 million maximum penalty on officials whose cities did not comply with federal immigration law.

“Americans are dying because politicians sworn to uphold the law refuse to do so,” Rokita said in the Monday statement. “It’s time the federal government gets serious about enforcing immigration laws and holding politicians accountable who conspire to break them.”

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