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Wednesday, August 16, 2017 1:00 am

At introduction, Messer's focus only on Donnelly

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Republican U.S. Rep. Luke Messer said Tuesday that Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly “doesn't stand a chance” if the two face off in the 2018 general election.

Messer, R-6th, came to Fort Wayne to continue the rollout of his Senate candidacy, which began with a July 26 announcement on Twitter. He hosted a campaign kickoff party Saturday in Shelby County and has made media appearances around Indiana this week.

“Joe Donnelly will have the support of every powerful institution on the East Coast and every Hollywood liberal on the West Coast. But I will have you and Hoosiers just like you. He doesn't stand a chance,” Messer said Tuesday at Allen County Republican Party Headquarters.

“Hoosiers are going to come together and elect a senator that represents them 100 percent of the time,” he said.

Donnelly's campaign later emailed to news media a link to a Morning Consult poll showing that 55 percent of Republican voters approved of Donnelly's performance. The survey by the media and technology company was conducted April 1 through June 18 among nearly 1,200 Republican voters in Indiana.

Donnelly's overall approval rating in the poll was 53 percent – including 58 percent among Democrats and 42 percent among independents. In all, more than 4,000 registered voters were surveyed. The error of margin was 2 percent.

“With Joe's connection to Indiana only growing, he's increasingly poised to capitalize on the brutal Republican primary on the other side,” Donnelly's campaign said in a statement.

Messer, 48, is among six announced candidates for the Senate nomination in May's Republican primary election. He and Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th, are by far the best-known and best-financed of the bunch.

Messer and Rokita have been bickering in public for months. On Tuesday, under the headline “The GOP's nastiest primary,” the news organization Politico reported sources have “painted the hostility between Rokita and Messer as the product of three decades of pent-up rivalry” that might have started when both were Wabash College students.

In Fort Wayne, Messer said he is not going to talk about other GOP Senate candidates. He would not comment on the Politico story, which said that he and Rokita had declined interview requests.

“I've of course known Todd Rokita since college. I'll leave it at that,” Messer said.

For much of the 2000s, Messer was a state lawmaker from Shelbyville and executive director of the Indiana Republican Party, while Rokita was Indiana's secretary of state. Rokita won election to a seat in the U.S. House in 2010, and Messer did the same in 2012.

Messer said Tuesday he favors income tax cuts, a more secure U.S. border, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, infrastructure improvements and school choice for families.

“I support the Trump agenda and want to see it become law. I believe that's what most Hoosiers want to see, too,” he said.

President Donald Trump has been criticized, even by Republican senators, for his initial response to Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. After an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd protesting a demonstration by white supremacists, killing a woman and injuring 19 people, Trump condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”  He issued a stronger rebuke Monday, naming the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs.”  

Messer was asked Tuesday about Trump's delayed reaction.

“I condemn racism, bigotry,” Messer said. “I condemn neo-Nazism and white supremacy. It's un-American. It ought to be denounced.

“Much of this I think is another example of President Trump not being treated all that fairly in the media,” he said. “I saw his first comments. It seemed to me like he condemned the atrocities that happened in Charlottesville.”

Trump on Tuesday appeared to return to his earlier stance, reportedly saying “there's blame on both sides” of Saturday's clash.

Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, introduced Messer at the local GOP headquarters. Six days earlier, she introduced Rokita inside the same building for his campaign appearance there.

Humbarger said she first met Messer in January on the National Mall in Washington during the March for Life, an annual demonstration against abortion rights.

“I could point to Congressman Messer's 100 percent pro-life voting record as scored by the National Right to Life, but seeing the congressman on the Mall that day made it clear that he walks the walk, literally,” Humbarger said.

“I'm pleased to report that the congressman has been faithful throughout his career to defend unborn boys and girls and their mothers,” she said.

The Journal Gazette later asked Humbarger whether she is staying neutral in the Republican Senate primary.

“I'm not endorsing, but it's always an honor to be able to welcome two pro-life champions,” she said about Rokita and Messer. “They both asked me (for introductions), and I wanted to make certain that everybody knows what their pro-life commitment is.”

Other announced candidates for the GOP Senate primary are state Rep. Mike Braun of Jasper, Hamilton County businessman Terry Hamilton, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and New Albany college administrator Andrew Takami.

bfrancisco@jg.net