GOP Senate candidates run outsider campaigns with insider consultants

The three Republican candidates running in the May 8 primary to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, paint themselves as outsiders prepared to shake up the status quo in Washington, D.C.

Yet, the candidates rely heavily on political consulting firms in the Washington area or on the East Coast to steer their campaigns in Indiana, according to their campaign finance spending reports, filed earlier this month with the Federal Election Commission.

Collectively, they have spent nearly $3 million with the consultants who have helped run the campaigns of everyone from President Donald Trump to U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Jeffersonville.

Senate candidate Mike Braun, who is running on his outsider businessman acumen, has spent nearly $2 million on media advertising and management consulting with Jamestown Associates, which has offices in Washington, Philadelphia and New Jersey.

“[Jamestown Associates’] expertise has been honed through decades of strategy, research, and trench warfare,” the company says on its website. “For us, it’s not just about producing, shipping and broadcasting top-notch product, it’s about winning – and our record proves it.”

Jamestown Associates touts its involvement in the successful campaigns of President Donald Trump, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Indiana’s Hollingsworth.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer is relying on the firm OnMessage Inc. of Annapolis, Maryland, in his campaign to be the GOP Senate nominee. So far, his campaign has spent nearly $1 million on digital advertising and political consulting, according to his campaign finance reports.

Like Jamestown, OnMessage has broad experience electing Republicans to political office. It has been involved in the campaigns of Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.

“OnMessage is our Media, Digital, and Pollster,” Molly Gillaspie, Messer’s press secretary, said in a statement in response to questions about the company.

The third Republican in the race, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, has been relying on different political consulting and advertising firms to promote his campaign. He spent $80,000 with D.C.-based FP1 Strategies LLC on campaign consulting and advertising. FP1 has worked on the Republican campaigns of  U.S. Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio and U.S. Rep. Karen Hendel from Georgia.

Rokita additionally spent almost $360,000 with other GOP consulting groups, including nearly $90,000 with LVH Consulting LLC, which worked on the campaign of former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats from Indiana, and $75,000 with the Prosper Group, which worked on former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s campaign.

Neither Braun’s nor Rokita’s campaigns responded to requests for comments about their political consultants.

Hoosiers are seeing the results of the consultants’ work in the barrage of television advertisements on every station at all hours.

Ads range from Rokita donning a “Make America Great Again” hat to emphasize his support of Trump to Mike Braun walking around with cardboard cutouts of Messer and Rokita, asking bystanders if they can tell the difference between the two. Some of Messer’s ads have portrayed him as a family man who supports the Trump agenda.

“It’s clear that all three of the candidates are emphasizing the same things,” Dr. Marjorie Hershey, professor of political science at Indiana University, said.  “All three of them are basically saying over and over again, ‘I’m a Trump supporter, I’m pro-gun, I’m pro-life and I’m a Christian.’ It’s really been a specific message with those four points.”

Hershey said that because Donnelly is one of the top three most vulnerable senators running for re-election, this race will be targeted by both the Republican and Democratic parties after the primary.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the race ended up with about $100 million in spending,” she said.

So far, more than $21.5 million has been raised by the three Republicans and Donnelly, with most of the money going to the Democrat. Messer, Rokita and Braun have reported almost $11.5 million in contributions and have spent more than $7.6 million.

Going into the final days before the May 8 primary, Braun has the biggest bankroll, with nearly $2.5 million cash on hand while both Messer and Rokita have around $1.9 million each in their accounts, according to FEC reports.

But Braun is mostly self-funded, contributing nearly $5.5 million of his own money to the $5.8 million in his campaign fund.

Messer has raised almost $3 million, with most of his contributions coming from individual donors. About 80 percent of his contributors have been from Indiana.

Rokita has raised a little more than $2.5 million, with most of his money being raised from individual contributions. Seventy-five percent of his donors are Indiana residents.

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