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President Donald Trump and Mike Braun

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mike Braun speaks alongside President Donald Trump during a May 10, 2018 rally in Elkhart, Indiana. Braun is echoing Trump by emphasizing his business experience in his campaign against U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.

INDIANAPOLIS — Former state Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, is emphasizing his experience as a successful business owner in working to sell himself to Hoosiers as Indiana's next U.S. senator.

The Republican nominee last week spent most of his 12-minute speech to the GOP state convention simply telling delegates about his background, following a bitter primary battle that saw six former state party chairmen accuse Braun of being a Democrat in disguise.

Braun did not retaliate during his moment in the spotlight at Evansville's Ford Center arena. Instead, he strove to unite the party behind him and his story — especially the 59 percent of Hoosier Republicans who did not vote for him in the three-candidate contest.

"If you want to see what somebody's going to do, you ought to look at what they've done," Braun said.

He detailed for the delegates his journey growing up in southern Indiana, attending Wabash College, marrying his high school sweetheart, leaving Indiana to earn a master's degree at Harvard Business School and then making the decision to return to their hometown of Jasper to raise a family.

"I don't know if we had an epiphany, or how we made that decision, but it was the smartest thing we ever did," Braun said. "Sometimes you can't see clearly what your future is going to look like until you spend it somewhere else."

Braun explained that after finishing business school he didn't want to go to work for Wall Street or a big corporation, he wanted to be his own boss.

In 1979, he co-founded Crystal Farms, Inc, which has become one of the largest turkey operations in the country. But Braun left after two years when he saw an opportunity at Meyer Body Company.

The auto parts manufacturer was in trouble when he joined, struggling under the high interest rates of the early 1980s. As Braun acquired ownership, he transitioned the business from manufacturing to distribution, and today Meyer Distributing is among the nation's biggest auto parts distributors.

"You've got to react, you've got to take risks, you've got to get things done," Braun said of his business style, echoing President Donald Trump to whom Braun has pledged his loyalty.

Braun said his approach to the Senate race against incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly will be similar: "It's like building a business — You've got to have a game plan, you've got have a great strategy, you've got to execute."

Part of Braun's Senate strategy is to urge Indiana business owners to share with their employees a portion of the financial benefits they reaped from the recently enacted federal tax cuts, and to do it before the November general election.

Braun claimed that if Hoosier workers soon see higher wages and reduced health care costs, "there is no way that people that are in the middle slightly, and even some conservative Democrats, will vote for more of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer."

"We've never had an easier way to put our money where our mouths are than with tax reform, the signature piece of legislation that's come along, in my mind, since the Reagan years," he said.

Braun takes his own advice in his first general election campaign ad that touts "nearly double the minimum wage" that he pays at Meyer Distributing, because "our business means jobs for neighbors."

"Our responsibility is to each other and Washington shirked its responsibility to us," he says in the ad over shots of Braun walking through a warehouse and driving at sunrise along a country road. "You know, nothing changes and the politicians stay the same. It's time we change that."

Democrats point out that Braun repeatedly has been cited by the federal government and sued by his own employees over pay and overtime disputes. In addition, they note that an annual salary at double Indiana's minimum wage still is just $30,160.

"Hoosiers know that Rep. Braun’s business history is one of lawsuits, violations and putting his own wallet before the well-being of his employees," said Michael Feldman, Indiana Democratic Party spokesman.

"His attempt to distort the facts makes clear he knows just how much of a liability his woeful treatment of workers is on the campaign trail."

Indiana primary results

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.