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Debate takeaways: GOP Senate candidates keep the attacks coming

April 30, 2018
Debate Senate GOP

U.S. Senate GOP hopefuls Luke Messer, Todd Rokita and Mike Braun faced off Monday night in Indianapolis in the last debate before primary election day.

The hour-long debate, which was hosted by the nonpartisan Indiana Debate Commission and moderated by Indiana politics blogger, radio host and attorney Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, was televised statewide and streamed online. It was the fourth debate for the Republican U.S. Senate primary. 

The candidates answered questions on trade, their top priorities if elected, the negative tone of the campaign season, federal debt, foreign policy and medical marijuana. They also each received time to speak on whatever topics they wanted. Questions were submitted by voters to the Indiana Debate Commission.

The winner of the primary on May 8 will face Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the fall.

Here are a few takeaways from Monday night's debate:

— The attacks started early and came often. Even when the candidates were asked why they were running negative campaigns that lacked Hoosier Hospitality, each candidate argued they were doing the right thing and said they were the one being the most honest with voters.

Braun: “The tone of the campaign is important, and all along I’ve talked about being a career businessman. And I know it’s painful for my competition to have no rebuttal to that.”

Messer: “I’ve tried throughout this campaign to stay laser focused on Joe Donnelly. ... I’m the only person in this race who can look you in the eye and tell you that everything I’ve said in this campaign is a fact.”

Rokita: “I don’t want to wait until October or November or whenever it is for Joe Donnelly to come around and stick a knife in these two guys because of all their baggage. I want it out in the open.”

— Messer and Rokita repeatedly teamed up to remind voters that Braun has a record of consistently voting in Democratic primaries until 2012. Braun reiterated that he only did it to have a voice in local elections. He claims he never voted for Democrats in federal or state races.

— Braun kept pushing the message that he is winning the race. He repeatedly made comments about Messer and Rokita being career politicians “taking their last gasp" or "circling the drain."

— The standard post-debate press conference was a bit unusual this year. As part of the Indiana Debate Commission event, the candidates are invited to a press conference afterward with reporters. Attendance is not required, but it’s the first time any candidates declined to participate.

Only Messer showed up to talk to reporters. Rokita and Braun left immediately after the debate, and they did not provide a reason for skipping the briefing. Messer took that as a sign he won.

“It would seem to me to at least be some kind of factual indicator of who really believes that they won that I’m willing to stand here before you and the media and talk to you about the debate,” Messer said.

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