The race for the United States Senate seat currently held by Democrat Joe Donnelly may be a year away, but already Republicans are lining up and looking at taking a run for the seat. Among those interested is Mike Braun, the Indiana District 63 Representative that covers parts of Daviess, Martin and Dubois County.
"I have not officially declared," said Braun, "But I have been kicking the tires, talking with people and seeing what kind of support I might have. So far, I have received a lot of encouragement to get into the race."
Braun, owner of Meyer Distributing and Meyer Logistics, has spent the last three years in the state house. During that time he has served on the Ways and Means Committee, Transportation and Roads and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. During the last session, he co-sponsored the road funding bill that will put millions of dollars more into road repairs and maintenance and the regional infrastructure bill that would allow areas to put together some of their own road projects.
"When I ran for office, I wanted to work on infrastructure and education, and during the last couple of sessions we have made big changes on those issues," said Braun. "We managed to get significant bills to go through the legislature. What I find now is that a lot of what needs to be worked on is federal issues, like health care."
Braun says some of his desire to take that on comes from his days campaigning in Washington. "When I ran the first time, I did a lot of door-to-door campaigning in Washington," he said. "I found the things that concerned people were most often federal ones rather than state issues."
If the local state representative jumps into the U.S. Senate race, he will most likely be part of a primary run that has already shown signs of being brutal before anyone even formally commits. Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are considered the early front-runners. They have similar voting records, but already each is claiming the other is behind negative stories that have surfaced in the Indianapolis media.
The Associated Press reported Messer's wife has received a lucrative consulting fee of more than $500,000 for part-time work out of the family's home in Virginia. The story has raised questions about Messer's Indiana residency. Residency issues were believed to have been a major issue that led to the defeat of former long-time senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh.
Meanwhile, Rokita has been reported to have used campaign funds to pay $100,000 to a private airplane company that he co-owns.
The internal spats are reportedly turning some Republicans off of both candidates and could open the way for someone else to win the primary. "I have received about 50 calls over the last couple of weeks from people who are encouraging me to run," said Braun. "They are looking for something different. Their arguing has taken my campaign from somewhat plausible to plausible."
Another element that might make a run plausible is campaign funding. Both Rokita and Messer have campaign war chests in excess of $1.5 million from their runs for the House. Braun says he doesn't have that kind of money right away but believes he can be competitive. "I have a lot of strong contacts in the business world around the state," he said. "I believe I can reach out to them for help, plus financially I am in a position where I could use some of my own money to prime the pump in the beginning."
Braun says he feels the timing may be right for making a run for federal office. "If I am ever going to run for the United States Senate now is the time," he said. "It could be a long time before there is a seat open again without an incumbent Republican. My children are grown and have taken on a lot of the business and my business is in good shape."
Despite his success in local races, Braun realizes that if he does get into the race, he will be facing some experienced politicians who have made careers out of politics and public service. "I hope there is a path for someone different to the Senate," said Braun. "Voters have shown they are willing to support a candidate who is not part of the establishment and I think they will support a candidate with a good background and a good message who can make his case."
Braun says he expects to have a decision on whether he will be a candidate by Aug. 1. "I expect both Messer and Rokita to declare in the next two or three weeks," he said. "If so, then I will need to get in quickly. I want to gather as much input as I can before I make a decision but it is looking positive based on the feedback I have received so far."
Whoever wins the Republican primary is expected to face Democrat Joe Donnelly in the fall. Even though Indiana is a traditionally Republican state that Donald Trump won easily in the last election Braun believes the incumbent will be a challenge to defeat. "Joe Donnelly won't be an easy guy to unseat," said Braun. "I know the President has lost a lot of his popularity since the last election and that could hurt a Republican, but I think the voters have shown they want some outsiders rather than the establishment."