A preview of Indiana’s Republican Senate primary

Luke Messer, Todd Rokita and Mike Braun make their cases at the last debate before the Indiana Republican primary.
Luke Messer, Todd Rokita and Mike Braun make their cases at the last debate before the Indiana Republican primary.

The Indiana Republican Senate primaries taking place on May 8 will determine who takes on Sen. Joe Donnelly, one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country, in November.

The candidates are U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, and former state representative Mike Braun.

Few policy differences differentiate the candidates, so personal jabs took center stage early on. The one thing the three swear by? Their support for President Donald Trump, who took the state by 19 percentage points in 2016.

Braun made his career as a businessman and has outspent his opponents by millions. His sales pitch is that he’s the only one with real-world experience, not a career politician. However, a gas tax hike during Braun’s three years in the state House landed him in hot water with his opponents.

Braun depicted Messer and Rokita as uncannily similar in an early campaign ad, and that’s mostly on the money. They went to the same small college together (which Braun also attended) and started out as lawyers, moving on to the state and then national politics. Both vote with Trump over 90 percent of the time in Congress.

Messer pitches himself as the only truthful candidate, while Rokita says he’s the only candidate able to beat Donnelly. Messer has mostly played it safe on facts, but all three candidates have exaggerated their own or their opponents’ records throughout the primary.

Below, you’ll find the statements we fact-checked on support for Trump, raising taxes, and trade deals.

Rokita said, "Luke Messer? He plotted with the Never-Trumpers to steal the nomination from President Trump."

Rokita accused Messer of sabotaging Trump’s nomination. But Messer never organized with the politicians and PACs opposed to a Trump presidency.

Messer instead expressed worry in several interviews on national television that Trump’s provocative rhetoric would cost him the election. But a closer look at the full interviews revealed that while Trump was not his first choice, he would still support Trump over Clinton.

Messer maintained reluctant support for Trump throughout the 2016 campaign. What's more, Rokita had moments where he criticized Trump in a similar manner as well.

We rated Rokita’s statement Mostly False.

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Mostly False
"Luke Messer? He plotted with the Never-Trumpers to steal the nomination from President Trump."
In a digital ad
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Rokita said, "I am the only one onstage who has never voted to raise your taxes. These two, each, a billion dollars worth of votes to raise your taxes."

Unlike his competitors, Rokita did not serve as a state legislator. Rokita joined the Indiana secretary of state’s office in 1997 as general counsel, later becoming deputy secretary of state. He won two terms as secretary of state before moving to Washington in 2010. As secretary of state, Rokita had no budget-adopting or tax-approving authority.

In Congress, neither Rokita nor Messer have voted for direct tax increases. But Rokita voted for bills that raised user fees and import tariffs, which affected some taxpayers. (Messer, too, voted in favor of the user fees.)

Braun indeed voted to increase taxes by almost $1 billion annually in a 2017 road funding law. Left unsaid by Rokita: He supported the gas tax from the sidelines, because it would lead to better infrastructure.

While in the state Legislature, Messer had two 2005 votes that indirectly raised taxes by over $1 billion. One allowed local governments to increase taxes to fund the Indianapolis Colts football stadium. Another cut subsidies and changed the way property taxes were assessed.

Both the Braun and Messer tax hikes were approved by a Republican-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor.

We rated this statement Half True.

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Half True
"I am the only one onstage who has never voted to raise your taxes. These two, each, a billion dollars worth of votes to raise your taxes."
Republican debate
Monday, April 23, 2018
Braun said Messer and Rokita "voted to fast-track Obama’s trade deals."

In 2015, Messer and Rokita voted for the Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act. Tucked into that law was the Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, in question.

The authority was for three years, counting toward both Obama and his successor’s trade deals. It has and will apply to Trump’s trade deals for another three years if Congress does not vote to block it come July.

The law would have applied to the TPP if it had come up for a vote. But a vote in favor of the authority isn’t a vote in favor of the deal. Messer and Rokita could have still voted against "Obama’s trade deals."

We rated this statement Half True.

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Half True
Says Luke Messer and Todd Rokita "voted to fast-track Obama’s trade deals."
GOP Indiana debate
Monday, April 30, 2018
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