By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — Chants of “Joe must go” filled the air on the Statehouse lawn Wednesday morning when U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita announced his bid for Sen. Joe Donnelly’s hotly contested U.S. Senate seat.
“Indiana needs a conservative senator who has our values,” Rokita said. “Indiana needs a senator who votes on the best interest in Hoosiers — not the Washington elites.”
U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita announces his run for the 2018 U.S. Senate race. Rokita says he will be there for Hoosiers when they need him. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
Donnelly, a Democrat, has held the seat since 2013. Rokita, a Republican, said it’s time to remove him from office as he is part of the “rigged” system.
“He is with us every time it doesn’t matter,” Rokita said. “But he is not with us when it does matter.”
Rokita cited the statement back to Donnelly’s support for the health care law, which Rokita said needs to be repealed and replaced. Rokita also said his campaign strategy differs from Donnelly’s.
“Joe is certainly going to use all his efforts and resources to make the race not about him,” Rosita said. “I talked about how I’m the best candidate and my team is the best team to make sure Donnelly is a one term senator.”
Donnelly’s campaign released a statement following Rokita’s announcement saying Donnelly has built his career on reaching across the aisle to find the best solution for Hoosiers.
“He’s worked every single day to strengthen his connection to the people he represents,” campaign manager Peter Hanscom said. “He spends as much time as he can back home in Indiana when the Senate’s not in session because there’s no substitute for hearing Hoosier’s concerns firsthand.”
The Indiana Democratic Party said Rokita is not the best candidate to represent the Hoosier state because he is out of touch with the needs of Hoosiers.
“Instead of figuring out how best to serve Hoosiers, Congressman Rokita has spent his time turning his fight with Congressman Messer into the nastiest primary in the country,” the party said in a statement.
While Rokita didn’t mention U.S. Sen. Luke Messer, who is seen as his strongest competitor in the race, by name, he took subtle jabs at him. Messer moved his family to Washington, D.C. following the 2012 election and Rokita touted his plan to raise his children in Indiana.
Weeks before Rokita or Messer officially threw their names in the hat, they began a feud.
In an email sent to supporters weeks ago, Messer said he was tired of Rokita lying about his family, which stemmed from Messer’s move to Washington, D.C.
Tuesday Rokita’s campaign launched an ad that urged Hoosiers who support President Donald Trump to take the next step and “defeat the elite” — Rokita’s campaign slogan.
Rokita, a four-term congressman and served as Indiana Secretary of State for eight years, said he sleeps in his office on Capitol Hill.
“I have taken a stance on not raising taxes, supporting budgets that reign on the government, and those are difficult things to do, especially in Washington, D.C. when there are special interest groups who all have a niche and a special interest,” he said. “I’m not part of the elite at all.”
Aside from plans to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” Rokita is running on goals of reforming the tax code, rebuilding the military and securing the borders.
He also said he will support Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Rokita used Trump’s line of “drain the swamp” many times during Wednesday’s announcement, saying sponsoring term limits legislation will “officially drain the swamp.”
“President Trump and Vice President Pence have an agenda Hoosiers and Americans support,” Rokita said. “We need people to take on the failed policies of the Washington elite.”
Rokita is the sixth candidate to announce a run for the 2018 Republican primary election. Others include Messer, Hamilton County businessman Terry Hamilton, state Rep. Mike Braun — of Jasper — New Albany college administrator Andrew Tatami and Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has been rumored to be considering a run. At a news conference Wednesday for an anti-violence initiative, Hill was asked if he plans to run. The Republican said he wanted to focus on his office’s plans to combat violence.
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.