INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republicans who picked wealthy former state lawmaker Mike Braun as their Senate candidate now are hoping he's not too battered from a grueling primary to mount an effective challenge against a vulnerable Democratic incumbent.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have scheduled a campaign rally on Thursday — just two days after the primary, signaling a push to stir GOP unity behind Braun ahead of his fall campaign against Sen. Joe Donnelly. That visit — in Elkhart, near Donnelly's home turf — will be followed next week with another visit to the state by Pence, Indiana's former governor.
"It's still a very Republican state. But anytime you have a divisive primary, it's going to obviously help Donnelly," Republican Indiana donor Bob Grand said during a recent interview. "You can count on the fact that Vice President Pence will do everything he can to bring us all together."
Braun didn't seem to show any concern Tuesday night while basking in the glow of supporters after his double-digit victory over two congressmen — Todd Rokita and Luke Messer.
Braun, who owns a national auto parts distribution business, said his victory is a sign voters are disenchanted with "business as usual" and pointed to several other Republican "outsider" senators who entered politics from the business world.
"If we get enough of us there, I think we'll actually start to solve some of these issues that have been vexing politicians," Braun said.
Democrats, who need to retain seats like Donnelly's and make gains elsewhere to regain Senate control, cautioned Republicans that they shouldn't get too cocky. While the GOP candidates were tearing each other apart for the better part of a year, Donnelly was flying under the radar and raising money. In recent days, he has been touring the state in an RV, a campaign move borrowed from popular former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.
On Tuesday, Donnelly said he was puzzled by Braun's claim of being an outsider, telling reporters, "as far as I know he served in the state Legislature." He also questioned the campaign's focus on loyalty to Trump, stating that his own campaign would be about issues like jobs and health care. At the same time, he highlighted his record of bipartisanship and noted that he often votes in line with the president.
"The people of Indiana are my boss," he said. "You don't work for the president, you don't work for a party — you work for the people of Indiana."
Braun's victory was an outcome few expected when he launched his campaign in August against the more established political brands of Messer and Rokita.
Part of Braun's success hinged on a more than $5 million loan he made to his campaign, which was used to carpet bomb television with ads characterizing himself as an "outsider."
Tom Mote, 66, of Indianapolis voted for Braun. But he was less optimistic about his party's chances of beating Donnelly in November.
"Donnelly's been very low-key and not very controversial," said Mote. "It's hard to beat an incumbent."
All of the GOP candidates were the subject of unflattering news stories.
Over the past year, Braun and other Republicans have attacked Donnelly over stock he held in a family business that outsourced jobs to Mexico — stock Donnelly sold in the wake a story by The Associated Press on the arrangement.
But Braun, too, has his own liabilities with outsourcing. His own business regularly does business with manufacturers in China. And he has been sued by employees over working conditions.