Messer eyes challenging Donnelly for Indiana Senate seat


Yet another member of Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) GOP leadership team is eyeing a bid for higher office.

House GOP Policy Chairman Luke Messer (Ind.) is preparing to run against first-term Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in 2018, sources close to Messer told The Hill.

{mosads}Donnelly is one of five Democrats who will be defending their Senate seats in deep-red states in the next campaign cycle. The former congressman pulled off a huge upset in his 2012 Senate race, defeating Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock, who had ousted longtime Sen. Dick Lugar in the GOP primary.

Now, Republicans will be looking to win back the seat. And they’ll get plenty of help from President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the outgoing Indiana governor. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Hoosier State by 19 percentage points, 57 percent to 38 percent.

Messer, who just won his third House term, shares a history with Pence. In 2000, Pence defeated Messer in a GOP primary race for a House seat — an outcome that would propel Pence to Congress, House leadership, the governor’s mansion and eventually the vice presidency. 

The two men would later patch things up and become good friends. Messer went on to serve as executive director of the Indiana Republican Party, win a seat in the state legislature, then capture Pence’s House seat when he left for Indianapolis.

Messer, 47, declined to comment for this story, but GOP sources said a formal Senate announcement probably would not come until 2017. 

A Donnelly spokeswoman had no comment.

Messer is just the latest member of Ryan’s leadership team to take a look at higher office.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Kan.), who just stepped down as vice chair of the GOP conference, is taking a serious look at running for governor in 2018. Meanwhile, Rep. Ann Wagner (Mo.), a former top Republican National Committee official who also held a top post at the House GOP’s campaign arm, is mulling a challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). 

Both Jenkins and Wagner declined to discuss their future plans with The Hill on Wednesday.

Then there’s House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.). The No. 4 Republican in leadership and highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress is a top contender to be Trump’s Interior secretary, a post she reportedly is interested in.

If McMorris Rodgers gets the nod, Ryan would need to hold a separate leadership election sometime after her resignation from Congress to fill her post. 

Given that she’s the only woman on Ryan’s GOP leadership team, the Speaker likely would want to see another woman succeed her. No one has expressed interest yet, but leadership sources said Reps. Diane Black (Tenn.), Mia Love (Utah) and Susan Brooks (Ind.) would be strong candidates. 

The fact that lower-tier members of GOP leadership are looking to move on to other endeavors suggests the top three leaders — Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) — are secure in their jobs and that there’s few opportunities for others to climb the leadership ladder.

Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Claire McCaskill Diane Black Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Donnelly Mike Pence Paul Ryan Susan Brooks
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