U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R-Shelbyville) will seek to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Granger) in 2018.
The announcement of Messer’s entrance into an increasingly crowded GOP field was understated: a Tweet with the simple message “We’re in!! See you at the picnic on August 12th.”
Below the message, his chosen logo: a partial outline of the state on a red field with the slogan “I Like Luke: U.S. Senate 2018.”
Messer has been a rumored candidate for months after he formed a finance committee led by Greg Pence, brother of Vice President Mike Pence. He joins an official field that includes Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt, Carmel businessman Terry Henderson, and Purdue Polytechnic New Albany Director Andrew Takami.
Messer’s most formidable primary opponent is still just a potential candidate – U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg).
Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW Director Andrew Downs says that puts a damper on Messer’s status as the favorite.
“While I think a lot of the conventional thinking is that Messer is the front-runner, I think that if he is, he’s not by much because of Rokita’s statewide experience,” Downs says.
Indiana Legislative Insight Editor Ed Feigenbaum says if Rokita enters the race, as expected, it’s a tossup between he and Messer:
“All of the polling that we’ve seen to-date, whether it’s been partisan polling or the quasi-independent polling, has indicated that this will be a real primary horse race,” Feigenbaum says.
The run-up to Messer’s announcement has been marked by rancor between the federal lawmakers: Messer accused Rokita of lying about his family, saying he lacks integrity. Rokita’s camp fired back, calling Messer “unhinged” and a “ticking time-bomb.”
Feigenbaum says more of that could open the door to other GOP candidates.
“Given that they think Messer and Rokita can knock out each other and that they may end up being a little bit too nasty with each other,” Feigenbaum says.
And Downs says continued attacks between Messer and Rokita will likely help Donnelly.
“What Donnelly in some respects has to hope for is that whoever comes out of the primary has been damaged in some way that his campaign can take advantage of,” Downs says.
In a statement, Donnelly says he’s the only candidate with a proven record of bipartisanship.