Breaking down the Indiana Republican race for US Senate

INDIANAPOLIS — As eyes across the country are watching how the Indiana Senate race unfolds, we dive into what makes it so important to the rest of the nation ahead of the Indiana Republican primary Senate debate hosted by WISH-TV on Sunday night. 

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Laura Wilson, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis, gave us some perspective leading up to the primary race.

“People are watching this race very closely because it’s seen as a very competitive one. The Democrats have 49 seats in the Senate; of course, our Joe Donnelly is one of those. Republicans are hoping to flip that,” Wilson said.

Among those Republicans hoping to shake up the Senate are businessman and former state Rep. Mike Braun, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer.

“There’s a lot of money being spent,” Wilson said. 

It’s all in hopes of flipping the seat from Democratic to Republican.

Wilson said U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly is well aware the change is a possibility. 

“He wants to toe the party line, but he can’t be too close to that because of course that wouldn’t appeal to most Hoosier voters,” Wilson said.

Wilson said Donnelly’s advantage at this point is that he doesn’t have a primary contender.

“So he doesn’t really have to spend money right now,” Wilson said.

As for Rokita and Messer, Wilson said: “They’ve been in office for a while, so they have to say, ‘What have they done in the House of Representatives? Why should Hoosiers want to elect them now to the Senate versus just keeping them in the House?”

She said Braun’s challenge is different. 

“Making sure Hoosiers know who he is. Distinguishing himself from Rokita and Messer,” Wilson explained. “(Showing voters) why it’s good to have someone who isn’t already in Congress.” 

Political expert and former WISH-TV Statehouse Bureau Chief Jim Shella said we’re seeing the same thing we saw years ago — Republican candidates trying to “out-conservative one another” or prove they are the most conservative candidate. 

“I think a large part of that is because they’re looking at their base, the Republican party. Who’s going to show out for the primaries? That’s going to be very important. They have to do that right now. Without a doubt, a big challenge though, is whoever wins in May is going to have to make themselves more moderate come November,” Wilson explained.

Wilson said that last part could prove to be a difficult pivot later this year. 

According to Wilson, the candidates are making sure they appeal to their Republican primary voters now because they want to win that race but need to avoid isolating more moderate voters for the November general election.