GOP rep jumps into Indiana Senate race

GOP rep jumps into Indiana Senate race
© Greg Nash

Rep. Todd Rokita (R) officially jumped into the Indiana Senate race on Wednesday, a long-expected decision that formalizes what's already become a brutal Republican primary in the bid to unseat vulnerable Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world MORE (D).

The Indiana congressman has long been gearing up for a bid and has not shied away from bruising battles with GOP opponent fellow Rep. Luke Messer (Ind.), with whom he has sparred for months in one of the more contentious primaries ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Rokita announced his bid at the Indiana statehouse Wednesday, when he focused primarily on Donnelly and emphasized his support for President Trump as well as Vice President Pence, who previously served as governor of Indiana.

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"Hoosiers want a commonsense senator willing to take on tough fights. Hoosiers want a conservative senator who shares our values and works with President Trump and Vice President Pence to turn the country around. Hoosiers want a senator who votes the interests of Hoosiers, not the Washington elite. We don’t have that in Joe Donnelly, and too much is at stake to accept it," Rokita said.

"Joe Donnelly claims to be moderate, but when it matters, Donnelly is with Washington liberals."

Rokita, who previously served as Indiana secretary of state before his stint in the House, posted a strong second quarter of fundraising ahead of his bid. He raised $1 million, compared to about $600,000 raised by Messer over that same time period. Both men had about the same amount of cash in the bank at the most recent fundraising deadline to end June. 

The two have sparred for months ahead of officially announcing their bids.

Rokita has seized on a report by the Associated Press that found Messer's wife earned more than $500,000 in consulting fees while living in Virginia to raise questions about his residency. That prompted a rebuke from Messer, who accused Rokita of spreading "lies and half-truths about my family." Rokita's allies have also sough to frame him as the candidate closest to Trump in a state the president won by 19 points in November.

That rancor has emboldened Democrats who believe that the fighting will weaken the eventual nominee.

Rokita and Messer are the favorites to make it out of a crowded GOP field. But despite the primary's brutal early months, the Republican nominee will have a strong shot at defeating Donnelly, who is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2018. 

On top of Trump's strong margin in the state — in a year where former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh lost a bid to return to office — Donnelly has also been hampered with negative press of his own. The Associated Press reported last month that a family company outsources jobs to Mexico despite his tough talk on outsourcing.