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The Journal Gazette

  • Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, who seeks the Republican nomination for Senate, speaks Saturday with former state lawmaker Jeff Espich in New Haven.

Sunday, April 15, 2018 1:00 am

Messer tells New Haven audience he's the real deal

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

NEW HAVEN – U.S. Rep. Luke Messer said Saturday that truthfulness is the main difference between him and his two rivals for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat from Indiana.

“I am who I say I am, and they're not,” Messer, R-6th, said during a campaign appearance at the New Haven Community Center attended by about 30 people.

“Look, if someone will lie to you about who they are in the middle of the campaign, then they will lie to you when they serve,” he said.

“One guy is running around, throwing a hat on, and the reality is when it comes time for tough votes, he hasn't been there,” Messer said in reference to U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th.

Rokita has often worn a cap displaying President Donald Trump's slogan “Make America Great Again.” Messer and Rokita have nearly identical voting records as House members, but Rokita twice this year has voted against congressional spending bills signed later by Trump.

“And the other guy, you know, could have addressed the fact that he was a lifetime Democrat who didn't support Republicans; ... and instead has just sort of tried to pretend that those things weren't true,” Messer said about Mike Braun, owner of an automotive parts distribution company and a former state lawmaker from Jasper.

The Associated Press reported in December that Braun had voted in Democratic primary elections from 1996 through 2008.

Messer said the incumbent he hopes to unseat if he wins the May 8 Republican primary election “is not who he says he is. He says he's conservative, and the reality is he's not.” 

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is widely regarded as among the most moderate Democrats in the Senate, along with Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.  

And just who is Messer?

“I'm a person of faith, and I'm a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment conservative that supports the Trump agenda,” Messer told his New Haven audience.

Informed of Messer's remarks, Rokita campaign spokesman Nathan Brand said in an email that Messer “is an elitist country club Republican who truly disdains President Trump and his supporters. His baseless personal attacks are just the latest proof that his pro-amnesty, never-Trump, tax-hiking, establishment record isn't connecting with Hoosier conservatives. It's sad that Luke Messer can't defend his own record on the issues and instead chooses to lash out like this.”

Donnelly campaign spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz said in an email that Donnelly “voted with President Trump 62% of the time last year because as Indiana's hired help in the Senate, he works for Hoosiers, not any political party. When he's back at home in Indiana, Joe listens to Hoosiers' concerns so he can act on them in Washington, delivering real results fighting the opioids crisis, keeping good-paying jobs in Indiana and protecting our affordable access to health care.”

Messer drew applause Saturday when he said, “I don't know about you guys, but I'm proud of the leadership we've seen out of President Trump.” He credited Trump with income tax cuts, U.S. economic growth, dramatic reductions in business regulations, a military buildup and “making America much stronger on the world stage.”

He said Trump “is under unfair withering criticism” from national media.

Messer's audience included New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald, state Rep. Dave Heine, R-New Haven, and former GOP state representative Jeff Espich of Uniondale.

Espich told Messer: “Americans would love Donald Trump if he would tone his rhetoric down just 10 percent. ... He's a great president, and he's good for America, but jeez, he just scares too many people.”

Messer replied: “The Hoosiers I talk to care a whole lot more about the substance of this president's policies than they do the style of his tweets. I think that's why he's (viewed) overwhelmingly positive across the state. I'm a Hoosier; my style's a little different.”

Polling firm Morning Consult reported recently that, during March, 48 percent of Indiana registered voters approved of Trump and 47 percent disapproved of him. The poll's margin of error was 2 percentage points. Trump's national approval rating was 41 percent last month.

Messer also said Saturday that he supports the Trump-ordered missile strikes Friday against targets in Syria; letting military veterans receive their federally funded health care from private providers if they wish; and revising population-based federal funding formulas so that undocumented immigrants cannot be counted. 

Messer was to make other campaign appearances Saturday in Huntington, Auburn, Angola and Elkhart.