- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2018

The attacks in the fourth debate of the Indiana GOP Senate race started in the candidates’ opening statements and didn’t stop until they left the stage.

It was a fitting finale, given the rock-‘em, sock-‘em tenor of the campaign between Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer and former state Rep. Mike Braun.

Mr. Rokita called Mr. Messer the “weakest” candidate in the field and accused Mr. Braun of trying to buy the seat because he “has no substance.” Mr. Messer said Mr. Rokita’s campaign “is mostly false” and warned conservatives that Mr. Braun is a “lifelong Democrat” who can’t be trusted.

Mr. Braun, meanwhile, said his rivals are “career politicians” who are trying to tear him down because they are desperate and have little in the way of accomplishments.

“They are circling the drain,” Mr. Braun said. “They know they are losing their career job and thank goodness.”

The winner of the May 8 primary will take on Democrat Joe Donnelly in the high-stakes midterm election.

Republicans’ chances of strengthening their slim 51-49 seat majority in the Senate could hinge on their ability to flip seats in states like Indiana, which Mr. Trump carried by 19 percentage points in the 2016 presidential race.

The Cook Political Report ranks the race as a toss-up — lumping it together with high-profile contests in Florida, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia, where Democrats are on the defense.

Mr. Donnelly won the seat in 2012 over Republican Richard Mourdock, who ousted 36-year incumbent Richard Lugar in the GOP primary.

There has been scarce polling in the GOP primary race this year, though Republicans in Indiana say momentum has been on Mr. Braun’s side.

The 64-year-old was the top choice of likely voters in a poll released this month and leads the money chase after tapping into his personal fortune — putting a big target on his back in the final debate.

With that as a backdrop, Mr. Messer, of the 6th Congressional District, and Mr. Rokita, of the 4th Congressional District, piled on the criticism, accusing Mr. Braun of turning his back on Republicans in primary elections and supporting tax hikes during his three years in the state Legislature.

“Who else do you know who is a lifetime Republican but voted for 38 straight years in Democratic primaries? It doesn’t ring true,” Mr. Messer said. “And if Mike Braun is not telling the truth about that, then what else is he not telling the truth about?”

Mr. Messer added, “He is a wealthy enough man to try to fulfill his ambition now, but throughout all of that time didn’t support any Republicans.”

Mr. Braun, who runs an auto-distribution business, countered the attacks by saying that he never voted for a Democrat in a state or federal election, has always been a conservative, and said his wife could vouch for him.

“The one truth is they built their lives in politics,” Mr. Braun said of his rivals. “I built my life in the real world.”

Mr. Rokita mocked Mr. Braun’s “real world” talk.

“Only in Mike Braun’s word can you raise taxes $1 billion and call yourself a conservative,” he said. “Only in Mike Braun’s world can you vote Democrat your entire adult life and call yourself a conservative.”

The three men said they could be trusted to support Mr. Trump and ducked a question of how they disagree with the president.

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