INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg, is counting on the same populist wave that last year carried Donald Trump into the White House to help him win Indiana's Republican U.S. Senate nomination.
The Munster native officially announced Wednesday that he's joining the increasingly crowded field of Hoosier Republicans vying for the chance to deny re-election next year to U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
Standing in front of the Statehouse on a brilliant sunny morning, surrounded by flag-waving supporters chanting "Joe must go," Rokita declared that he's running to bring conservative principles and "Hoosier values" to the Senate.
"I want to continue to fight for all Hoosiers so they can build better lives for themselves and their families," Rokita said.
He repeatedly returned to his campaign's theme, "Defeat the Elite," by describing Donnelly as part of a "rigged system" in Washington, D.C., that promotes government growth over the private sector and who "looks down on the rest of us."
"President Trump and Vice President Pence have an agenda that Hoosiers, and Americans, fully support," Rokita said.
"They need more partners in the Senate willing to challenge the status quo, from both parties, and take on the failed policies of the Washington elite."
If elected, Rokita pledged to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, reduce business taxes, eliminate "way out of whack" regulations, enact a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget and rescind union protections for federal employees.
He also vowed, without specifying how he'd pay for it, to "rebuild our military" and "secure the border," in addition to imposing term limits on members of Congress, prohibiting former members from lobbying and relocating federal agencies to states far from Washington.
"And, finally, of course, I will stand up for our Hoosier values by protecting our 2nd Amendment right, our God-given right, and affirming the right to life," Rokita said.
The four-term congressman and former Indiana secretary of state walked off without speaking to reporters about why he shouldn't be considered part of "the elite," as a member of a 435-person body that represents 325 million Americans where he serves as vice chairman of the House Budget Committee.
He did say that returning to Indiana every week keeps him grounded in the real-life issues faced by Hoosiers, a not-so-veiled shot at his most prominent primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville, who moved his family to Virginia after being elected to Congress.
But Rokita and his campaign finance chairman, former state Rep. Dan Dumezich, R-Schererville, saved their most withering attacks for the first-term Democratic incumbent.
"People like Joe Donnelly are obstructionists and they have to leave," Dumezich said. "He does not represent the citizens of Indiana; he represents the liberal elites of Washington."
Donnelly campaign manager Peter Hanscom said it's clear that Rokita and his campaign team don't know Joe.
"Joe Donnelly has built his career on reaching across the aisle to find the best solutions for Hoosiers, and he's worked every single day to strengthen his connection to the people he represents," Hanscom said.
Besides Rokita and Messer, so far four additional Republicans are competing for the party's U.S. Senate nomination: state Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper; Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson; Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt; and Floyds Knobs educator Andrew Takami.