INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Republican Todd Rokita is taking aim at "the elite" part of the government as he launched his U.S. Senate campaign in downtown Indianapolis Wednesday.
Rokita's new digital ad urges voters in the state that overwhelmingly backed President Donald Trump to "take the next step" and "defeat the elite."
Rokita's ad targets Sen. Joe Donnelly by name, accusing him of being part of a "rigged" system. But it also takes subtler digs at Rep. Luke Messer, who moved his family to suburban Washington after his 2012 election and once worked as a lobbyist. The ad says Rokita, 47, and his wife are raising their children in Indiana while noting that Washington, D.C., is surrounded by some of the wealthiest communities in the country.
Messer has said that he moved his family to the Washington area to stay close, acting on advice from Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor, who also relocated his family while representing Indiana in Congress.
Messer and Rokita have for weeks traded insults and accusations, with both suggesting that the other is "unhinged."
In a recent email blast to supporters, Messer accused Rokita of "lying about my family." That came after Rokita questioned a lucrative contract Messer's wife, Jennifer, holds with an Indianapolis suburb for part-time legal work she does from home.
The Associated Press first reported in May about Jennifer Messer's contract with the city of Fishers, which pays her $240,000 a year to work as a part-time contract attorney, a sum that is vastly more than either of the city's two staff attorneys are paid -- or many other government lawyers in the state.
But Rokita, a former Indiana secretary of state who serves as vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, could have some vulnerabilities of his own in the primary race. He is known for making off-the-cuff remarks that have drawn blowback. And Rokita has also angered a number of fellow Indiana Republicans, who view him as abrasive, difficult to work with and self-serving.
— Katie Heinz (@katieheinz6) August 9, 2017
Mike Braun, a wealthy Republican state representative, announced Tuesday that he would face off against the two congressmen in the GOP primary. The winner will try to unseat Donnelly, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2018.
"Everything I'm sensitive to and interested in I've learned in the private sector. Now, I know what you can do through government to maybe make things a little easier for those of us that create jobs, build opportunity for others, and make the economy tick,” said Braun.
Republicans who control the Statehouse redrew Indiana's congressional districts after the 2010 census, cutting Rokita out of the area he represents. The move was viewed as a rebuke to Rokita for pushing to make changes to the state's redistricting process.
In 2007, Rokita issued an apology after comparing black voters overwhelming support for the Democratic Party akin to a relationship between slave and master.
"How can that be," Rokita said while speaking at a Republican fundraising dinner. "Ninety to 10. Who's the master, and who's the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?"
Jon Stewart mocked Rokita on The Daily Show in 2013 after he called the Affordable Care Act "one of the most insidious laws ever created by man."
President Barack Obama's signature health care law now provides at least 90 percent of the funding for Indiana's HIP 2.0 program, which insures roughly 400,000 low-income people and is widely cheered by Republicans in the state.
Also joining the race is Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt, Atlanta businessman Terry Henderson and director of Purdue Polytecnic Andrew Takami.
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