INDIANAPOLIS – An article yesterday from the New York Times wonders at length how much general election damage the “GOP’s nastiest primary” is doing to its eventual Senate nominee. From the headline on, Indiana Republican leaders and the candidates themselves show great concern at the level and intensity of the personal attacks that Congressmen Rokita and Messer and Rep. Braun continue to launch at one another. With over a month of TV ads still to go, many are worried that whoever emerges from the primary will be too damaged to have a chance at winning in November.
As the May 8 primary election approaches, the race here has taken a nasty turn, with candidates attacking one another as insufficiently aligned with the president, or way too late to Team Trump. Some Republicans worry that the tenor has the potential to bloody the winner so badly that he will be weakened in the general election contest against Senator Joe Donnelly…
“Of course it helps Donnelly,” said Robert T. Grand, a lawyer and powerful figure in state politics for decades. “Any division in the Republican Party helps Donnelly.”
“It’s a legitimate three-way race,” said John Hammond, a lawyer and member of the Republican National Committee from Indiana, “and everybody will probably go right up to the line with rhetoric and negative message. It’s happening and it’s intensifying.”
He added, “All the opposition research will have been done for Joe Donnelly at that point.”
Referring to two previous Republican presidential candidates, John R. Kasich and Mitt Romney, Mr. Rokita added: “Messer at this point is like all losing candidates, like Kasich or Romney, ‘if you beat up on me, we are all going to lose.’ Absolutely wrong. I am not waiting for Joe Donnelly to stick a knife in Luke Messer or Mike Braun in November. I am getting it all out now. Because Donnelly will stick in a knife in them.”
That kind of language has prompted concern among some of the state’s most influential Republicans.
Mr. Grand, who supports Mr. Messer, was particularly critical of Mr. Rokita trying to claim a populist mantle by deriding so-called elites. Mr. Rokita’s “elites” are something else to Mr. Grand: “People that know what’s good for the Republican Party, yes, longstanding Republicans, yes. People who know how to elect Republican candidates.”
“Or,” he asked, does Mr. Rokita “want to go back to the group that gave us Mourdock?”
“Where there are particularly competitive or divisive primaries, it is bad for the parties when they go to the general,” said Andrew B. Hall, a political scientist at Stanford University who has studied the subject. “Things are getting put on record that make you look weak. You alienate some of your own base. You’ve expended some of your resources.”
Mr. Braun dismissed Mr. Rokita as a “smash mouth.”
“He’ll do and say things that might impress,” he said. “If he’s trying to act like Trump it’s kind of a poor impression.”
He also said there could be lingering damage: “When you’ve got sharp elbows, that creates a long memory for the people hit by those elbows.”
He rejected Mr. Rokita’s charge that he was a recent Republican convert, saying he had never voted for a Democrat for a federal office.
Mr. Messer, whose campaign so far has been the most measured of the three, accused Mr. Rokita of “trying to make things up.