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The Journal Gazette

  • Todd Rokita

Wednesday, August 09, 2017 10:10 am

Rokita announces his candidacy

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The nastiest race in politics can officially begin after U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita announced his candidacy this morning for a U.S. Senate seat representing Indiana.

The 47-year-old from Brownsburg has been signaling for months his intention to run for the GOP nomination for the seat of Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

"Indiana needs a senator who votes in the best interest of Hoosiers - not the Washington elite," he said before a group of a few hundred at the Indiana Statehouse.

"Defeat the Elite" signs dotted the crowd, along with small American flags handed out by his staff.

Rokita, R-4th, set up a statewide campaign finance team in May and has touted his campaign fundraising numbers. He has been publicly squabbling with announced candidate Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th.

Two weeks ago, the same day Messer announced his candidacy on Twitter, Rokita's campaign released results of internal polling showing him running ahead of Messer and other possible contenders in the 2018 GOP primary election.

On Wednesday, Rokita aimed most of his barbs at Donnelly for saying one thing in Indiana and voting another way in D.C.

Donnelly for Indiana Campaign Manager Peter Hanscom said "Joe Donnelly has built his career on reaching across the aisle to find the best solutions for Hoosiers, and he’s worked every single day to strengthen his connection to the people he represents.

He spends as much time as he can back home in Indiana when the Senate’s not in session because there’s no substitute for hearing Hoosiers’ concerns firsthand. This race will come down to whomever has a strong connection to Indiana."

Rokita also plugged the fact that he sleeps on his couch in his D.C. office and flies home to his family every weekend. It was a subtle dig at Messer, who lives in McLean, Va. with his family. He is registered to vote at a home he co-owns with his mother in Shelbyville.

Rokita is the sixth announced Republican Senate candidate, joining Messer, state Rep. Mike Braun of Jasper, Hamilton County businessman Terry Hamilton, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and New Albany college administrator Andrew Takami.

Another possible GOP candidate - Attorney General Curtis Hill - didn't rule out a run for the Senate at an un-related even in the Statehouse Wednesday.

Some think he could play spoiler in the race since he has strong conservative credentials and a law and order background. He also does not have to give up his state seat to run for the federal post.

A former two-term Indiana secretary of state, Rokita was first elected to the House in 2010 to represent the western Indiana congressional district that includes Lafayette, Crawfordsville and suburbs of Indianapolis. In April, Rokita told the audience at the Allen County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner that Republicans “need someone who has good name ID to go against” Donnelly.

Rokita is vice chairman of the House Budget Committee and a member of the Education and Transportation Committees. He is a proponent of school choice and charter schools, and he had a prominent role in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act for establishing federal academic standards for public schools.

He sought the Republican nomination for governor last summer in a caucus to replace Mike Pence after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump chose him as his running mate. Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb won both the caucus and the general election.

At the end of June, Rokita reported having $2.35 million in campaign cash, and Messer reported having $2.03 million. The other announced GOP Senate candidates had far less money, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

nkelly@jg.net