MORRISTOWN, Ind. — Republican U.S. Rep. Luke Messer launched his U.S. Senate campaign Saturday with a little bit of politics and a whole lot of barbecue.
“Some say this doesn’t exist anymore — hundreds of Hoosier families standing shoulder to shoulder, waving flags, having a barbecue, people from all generations coming together to celebrate our freedom,” Messer said.
More than 700 Hoosiers from across the state traveled to Morristown, about 45 minutes southeast of Indianapolis, for the sixth annual Messer Family Barbecue where Messer kicked off his bid for the Senate seat, currently filled by Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. The Republican representative currently serves Indiana’s 6th District after being elected to Congress in 2012.
Messer announced his run for the Senate seat with a large red campaign logo reading “I like Luke” on his Twitter account July 26.
“Hoosiers deserve a United States Senator who will look out for them — not someone who just talks like a Hoosier back home in Indiana, then votes with the liberals out in Washington,” Messer said.
Supporters of U.S. Rep. Luke Messer await his arrival at his family’s sixth annual barbecue in Morristown. Messer launched his U.S. Senate campaign at the event. Photo by Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com
Bill and Ginger Bradford traveled from Versailles Saturday for the annual picnic. Ginger Bradford, chairwoman of the Ripley County Republican Party, said she and her husband have been longtime supporters of Messer since he was first elected to Congress in 2012.
“We’re here to support Luke because he’s one that can do the job,” Ginger Bradford said. “He’s a good Christian man and he works really hard and stands up for us.”
Bill Bradford said Messer has the power to “get Congress moving.”
“He can help Trump more than Donnelly could ever think about,” Bill Bradford said. “Messer will help Donald Trump’s agenda, and he’s a good Republican.”
Dana Caldwell and his wife Audra have hosted the annual Messer picnic at their central Indiana home for the last six years, watching it grow from 150 people at the first picnic in 2012 to more than 700 people this year.
The Caldwells met the Messer family around 14 years ago, and they’ve shared a close bond ever since.
“When Luke got interested in doing things with the local government, we backed him,” Caldwell said. “Through that, we built our relationship as a family with him. I told him one time way back then, ‘If you ever need something big, you let me know and we’ll get involved.’”
After Luke launched a bid to run for Congress in 2012, the annual family picnic at the Caldwells’ was established.
“It’s such a warming feeling, and it reassures us that we’re not thinking wrong,” Caldwell said in response to the turnout for this year’s picnic. “Luke is still in the right light of thinking about matters and handling the pressures of Washington.”
Five other Republican candidates are also launching campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat — U.S Rep. Todd Rokita, Hamilton County businessman Terry Hamilton, state Rep. Mike Braun of Jasper, New Albany college administrator Andrew Tatami and Kokoma attorney Mark Hurt. The winner of the Republican primary will face incumbent Donnelly, who has held the seat since 2013.
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, glances at his family during the sixth annual Messer Family Barbecue in Morristown. Messer launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate at the event Saturday. Photo by Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com
In an email Saturday, Tim Edson, a spokesman for Rokita, said the Messer campaign is about “trying to fool Trump supporters and grassroots conservatives into believing Luke Messer is one of them.”
The email featured a one-minute compilation of clips of Messer in the media titled, “ELITES ATTACK.” It ends with the statement: “If you like Donald Trump, you won’t like Luke Messer. He’s with the elite. Not us.”
The email is a part of an ongoing feud between Messer and Rokita, who announced his run for the Senate Wednesday outside the Statehouse with the campaign slogan, “Defeat the elite.”
In a previous email last month, Messer said he was tired of Rokita’s lies about his family after Messer moved to Washington D.C. following the 2012 election.
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.