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Pence’s brother, state lawmaker win Indiana GOP House nods

May 9, 2018

Greg Pence addresses supporters during the Bartholomew County Republican Party election results watch party at the Hamilton Community Center & Ice Arena in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Pence won the Republican nomination for the 6th Congressional District. (Mike Wolanin/The Republic via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republican voters picked Vice President Mike Pence’s brother and a state lawmaker who lost his left arm during the Vietnam War as nominees for two congressional seats vacated by incumbents who fell short Tuesday in the GOP Senate primary.

Meanwhile, Democrats picked a Methodist minister-turned-health care company executive and a former Democratic congressional staffer as their challengers in two districts where they hope to unseat what they see as vulnerable GOP incumbents.

Wealthy businessman Mike Braun won the three-way GOP race for the right to challenge Joe Donnelly, who’s considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats on the ballot this year. The nasty GOP race buoyed Democratic confidence that Donnelly could survive.

Here’s a look at some key Indiana primary races:

SENATE RACE-REPUBLICANS

Braun defeated U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer in the GOP primary.

With few major policy differences, the candidates ran bitter campaigns by arguing who’s the strongest Trump supporter. Trump won the state by 19 points in 2016.

Errol Spears, a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher from Fishers, said he voted for Braun in part because of his business background and for the tone of his campaign. But he said he wasn’t overly impressed with the candidates, saying he preferred “someone who would say, ‘I’ll back Trump when he’s right and I won’t back him when he’s wrong.’”

Braun, who is also a former state legislator from Jasper, argued his experience is the closest to Trump because he’s an outsider.

Rokita, a three-term congressman, donned a red “Make America Great Again” hat in TV ads and carried a cardboard Trump cutout to rallies. He described Messer as a “Never Trumper” and Braun, who voted in several Democratic primaries, as a lifelong Democrat.

Messer, a member of House leadership, recently nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for his handling of North Korea.

Some Republicans worry that the nasty race puts the party’s chance of unseating Donnelly at risk.

After voting Tuesday in Indianapolis, 63-year-old Dorothy Frazee said she didn’t pay attention to the “childish” name-calling and voted for Rokita because he seemed most in line with Trump.

Insurance adjuster Chris Thurston, 39, of Indianapolis said he voted for Messer because he thought the congressman had a better chance of defeating Donnelly in November.

HOUSE RACES-DEMOCRATS

Democrats in two Indiana congressional districts say the GOP incumbents — three-term Rep. Jackie Walorski in the 2nd District and Tennessee native and first-term Rep. Trey Hollingsworth in the 9th District — have been absent from the districts and are clueless about what their constituents need.

Candidates are eyeing those districts that used to elect conservative Democrats before they were redistricted to favor the GOP after the 2010 census.

Former Democratic congressional staffer Liz Watson, an attorney from Bloomington, defeated civil rights lawyer Dan Canon and another candidate in the Democratic primary for the 9th District nomination.

Methodist minister-turned-health care company executive Mel Hall will be the Democratic challenger to Walorski for the northern Indiana congressional seat. Walorski has easily won her last two re-election campaigns in the South Bend-area district, but Hall has said he’ll campaign on his experience in business and on health care issues.

HOUSE RACES-REPUBLICANS

Greg Pence won the Republican primary for an Indiana congressional seat his younger brother, Vice President Mike Pence, once held for a dozen years.

He defeated four others in the 6th District race, including Muncie businessman Jonathan Lamb, who had criticized his opponent for relying on the Pence name.

State Rep. Jim Baird, of Greencastle, defeated two members of Mike Pence’s gubernatorial administration to win the GOP primary in the heavily Republican 4th District.

The 72-year-old Baird is a farm owner who’s been an Indiana House member for eight years. He lost his left arm during combat in the Vietnam War. Baird finished ahead of Steve Braun, GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun’s brother who was head of the state workforce development agency under then-Gov. Mike Pence.

LEGISLATIVE RACES

A Republican legislator from northern Indiana was defeated in his bid for what would have been a record-tying 10th four-year term in the state Senate, while an equally long-serving Democratic senator won his primary.

Republican Sen. Joe Zakas of Granger lost to business owner Linda Rogers in the primary for the South Bend-area district. Zakas was elected to the Senate seat in 1982. Democratic Sen. Frank Mrvan of Hammond easily defeated two challengers.

The only other legislative incumbent defeated in Tuesday’s primary was Republican Rep. Richard Hamm of Richmond. He lost to retired surgeon Brad Barrett.

Three-term Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel survived a tough primary challenge from a former Carmel city official.

The wife and son of former GOP congressmen both won nominations for open Indiana House seat. Matt Hostettler, the son of former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, won a three-way race for an open GOP seat in the Evansville area. Christy Stutzman, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, will be the GOP candidate in northern Indiana’s Elkhart County.

High school math teacher Tonya Pfaff defeated former Vigo County Council member Mark Bird, an older brother of Basketball Hall of Famer Larry Bird, and three other Democratic primary candidates for Terre Haute district now held by their party. Gary City Council member Ragen Hatcher, the daughter of former longtime Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher, won the Democratic bid to succeed 18-term Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown.

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