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Democrats using attacks from Braun's GOP rivals against him

May 9, 2018

Hours after Indiana Republicans selected wealthy former state lawmaker Mike Braun as their Senate nominee, Democrats were hard at work using the harsh rhetoric from a nasty GOP primary race against him.

An online ad by the Democrat-affiliated group American Bridge, released shortly after Braun clinched the nomination, previewed what could be a major line of attack.

Titled "Can't Trust Mike Braun," the ad repackages blistering criticisms from GOP Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, who were defeated Tuesday. The clip includes everything from their attacks on Braun's vote in the Indiana Legislature to raise taxes, to Chinese goods imported by his national auto parts distribution business.

"He imports from China and Mexico, then displaces Hoosier workers," Rokita said in one snippet. In another, Messer asks: "How can any Hoosier conservative trust you?"

Whether that will prove effective in a general election campaign that could top $100 million is far from certain.

Still, it's the kind of attack some Republicans worry could jeopardize their chances in November of taking down Democrat Joe Donnelly, who is widely considered one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have scheduled a campaign rally on Thursday—just two days after the primary, signaling a push to unify the GOP behind Braun. That visit—in Elkhart, near Donnelly's home turf—will be followed next week with another visit to the state by Pence, Indiana's former governor.

Braun's campaign did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But he didn't seem to show any concern Tuesday night while basking in the glow of supporters after his double-digit victory.

Braun said his victory is a sign voters are disenchanted with "business as usual" and pointed to several other Republican "outsider" senators who entered politics from the business world.

"If we get enough of us there, I think we'll actually start to solve some of these issues that have been vexing politicians," Braun said.

Democrats, who need to retain seats like Donnelly's and make gains elsewhere to regain Senate control, have cautioned Republicans that they shouldn't get too cocky. While the GOP candidates were tearing each other apart for the better part of a year, Donnelly was flying under the radar and raising money. In recent days, he has been touring the state in an RV, a campaign move borrowed from popular former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.

On Tuesday, Donnelly said he was puzzled by Braun's claim of being an outsider, telling reporters, "as far as I know he served in the state Legislature." He also questioned the campaign's focus on loyalty to Trump, stating that his own campaign would be about issues like jobs and health care. At the same time, he highlighted his record of bipartisanship and noted that he often votes in line with the president.

"The people of Indiana are my boss," he said. "You don't work for the president, you don't work for a party—you work for the people of Indiana."

Braun's victory was an outcome few expected when he launched his campaign in August against the more established political brands of Messer and Rokita.

Part of Braun's success hinged on a more than $5 million loan he made to his campaign, which was used to carpet bomb television with ads characterizing himself as an "outsider."

Tom Mote, 66, of Indianapolis voted for Braun. But he was less optimistic about his party's chances of beating Donnelly in November.

"Donnelly's been very low-key and not very controversial," said Mote. "It's hard to beat an incumbent."

Over the past year, Braun and other Republicans have attacked Donnelly over stock he held in a family business that outsourced jobs to Mexico—stock the longtime outsourcing critic sold in the wake of a story by The Associated Press on the arrangement.

But Braun, too, has his own liabilities when it comes to free trade, with records showing that his company regularly does business with manufacturers in China.

Republicans insist the two situations are different and said they have no intention of letting up on the issue.

"Mike has spent his career creating jobs for Hoosiers, while (Donnelly) profited from his family business's outsourcing, even as he called the practice 'un-American,'" said National Republican Senate Committee spokesman Bob Salera. "Hoosiers will continue to be reminded of Mexico Joe's blatant hypocrisy."

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