A little-known state lawmaker hopes to upend Indiana's already contentious GOP Senate primary by plunging roughly $800,000 of his own money into his campaign.
Besides his own contribution, state Rep. Mike Braun has raised more than $200,000 from donors, including many he knows through his automotive supply business, since announcing his candidacy in early August, his campaign told The Associated Press. Braun said the totals show he can compete in the race, which has drawn a handful of candidates, including two sitting Republican congressmen.
"That was done in a month and a half," said Braun. "It exceeded my expectations."
Indiana's Republican race will determine who will face Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the 2018 general election. The primary isn't until May, but it has already drawn national attention due to a feud between Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer.
The two personally attacked each other before either officially entered the race. At different points each has accused the other of being "unhinged."
Some Republicans worry that if it continues, the two will inflict so much damage that neither would have a good chance of defeating Donnelly, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election and is a major GOP target.
That's where Braun sees an opening.
"One reason people are listening to me is the tone of the race, as exhibited by the two of them—and I think especially Todd Rokita, who I think has been throwing most of the punches," Braun said. "I think that general disappointment with the way discourse unfurls is out there."
Messer and Rokita, who have served in Congress for more than five years, have far bigger war chests than Braun. As of the end of June, Rokita reported having $2.3 million on hand, while Messer had about $2 million.
But when adding Braun's own investment to the amount he raised from donors since August, he has on hand roughly the same amount Rokita raised last quarter. That's a sum that is also far greater that the $578,000 Messer posted for the same quarter.
Both Rokita and Messer's campaign declined to release preliminary fundraising numbers for the recently concluded quarter when asked Tuesday.
Self-funding candidates are relatively rare in Indiana, though Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, a Tennessee-native who moved to the state to run for Congress, relied on his father's wealth to help him win a southern Indiana seat last year.
What remains to be seen is if Braun's initial infusion to build up his campaign will convince donors to take a chance on him, too, or how much more of his own money he is willing to sink into the race.
He acknowledges that without ample money it doesn't "matter how well people may like you," your message "won't be heard by voters when it really counts."
Braun's auto supply business, Jasper-based Meyer Distributing, operates nationally. But it's unclear what his net worth is. His financial disclosure with the Indiana General Assembly doesn't include it, and he was granted an extension on mandatory financial paperwork that all candidates must file with the Senate.
The Jasper native was elected to the Legislature in 2014 after decades in the private sector. While relatively new to elected office, Braun cites his background in business as one of his assets.
He also took a dig at both Messer and Rokita, whose political careers date to the early 2000s.
"I'm not beholden to anybody," he said, vowing to "speak independently" and vote in the Senate "how Hoosiers want you to vote."
"I'm from the trenches of conservatism, where you're living and doing," Braun said. He contrasted that with Rokita and Messer, "talking a good game while nothing changes."