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The Journal Gazette

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Saturday, April 14, 2018 1:00 am

Local debate touted as main act

Interest high in county GOP's Lincoln dinner

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Steve Shine considers the Indianapolis debates of Republican U.S. Senate candidates as the undercard to the event his group is organizing.

The longtime chairman of the Allen County Republican Party said the April 23 debate in Fort Wayne will reach a larger TV audience than the others, including one Sunday night in Indiana's capital city.

And the local match will be the last one in which all three candidates for the GOP nomination – former state lawmaker Mike Braun and U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita – will participate before the May 8 primary election. Rokita is not taking part in an April 30 debate at an Indianapolis TV station.

To say that perpetual promotion machine Shine is tickled pink would be an understatement.

“Never in the history of either party has a county's political organization spring fundraiser event been televised,” Shine said in a telephone interview.

All 500 seats for the debate – officially the Allen County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner – had been sold as of Wednesday. They went for $75 a person and double that to attend an earlier reception. Events will be at the Ramada Hotel Plaza and Conference Center at Coldwater and Washington Center roads.

Shine said interest was fanned by the candidates' ubiquitous TV advertisements.

“I didn't have to say a thing after the ads started running,” he said about marketing the dinner.

Braun, Messer and Rokita will debate at 7 p.m. Sunday at WISH-TV studios in Indianapolis. That debate will be carried by four Nexstar Media Group stations, including WANE in Fort Wayne.

The GOP race has taken on an outsized importance because Indiana is considered one of a few toss-up states that could determine which party controls the Senate. The winner of the Hoosier State's Republican primary election May 8 will face Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly for the Nov. 6 general election.

With no clear-cut favorite among Braun, Messer and Rokita, their debates seem certain to attract a lot of attention from voters and news media.

The Fort Wayne debate will be televised live by local station WPTA, its feed carried by five other stations, including PBS39 in Fort Wayne and WTHR in Indianapolis. Shine said the stations will carry the first hour of the 90-minute debate, which begins at 7 p.m. April 23; they must switch to network programming when prime-time viewing begins at 8 p.m.

The full debate will be carried by four radio stations, including WOWO in Fort Wayne, and streamed online.

No matter what the candidates argue about in the Summit City, they should look their best doing it.

“They each will have their own green room” at the Ramada, Shine said. “We have engaged the services of an individual to answer any calls they may need for their grooming purposes or assistance with their stage presence.”

He said the debate and having the 2014 Republican State Convention in Fort Wayne “are no small tasks, and I believe are indicators of why we are the premier county political organization.” Those events are “very time consuming, they're very volunteer oriented, there's a lot of manpower going into putting this together.”

But Shine added, “I like putting these things together to put the best face forward” for the local GOP.

bfrancisco@jg.net