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Sunday, October 29, 2017 1:00 am

Area donors cool to GOP hopefuls

6 Senate candidates' 3Q totals surpassed by Donnelly's

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Republican candidates for a U.S. Senate seat representing Indiana attracted little financial support from the Fort Wayne area during the third quarter.

The six candidates for next year's GOP nomination combined to collect $11,250 in itemized contributions from 11 donors living in northeast Indiana, according to their most recent campaign finance reports. Individual contributions of $200 or more must be reported in detail to the Federal Election Commission.

In the meantime, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., received more than $14,700 in itemized contributions from 40 residents of northeast Indiana, considered the most Republican region of the state according to recent years' election results.

The Journal Gazette considers northeast Indiana to be Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley counties.

Donnelly, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, has raised $6.7 million for the election cycle to date, including $1.3 million in the third quarter, and he had more than $4.6 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

On the Republican side, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th, has raised $2.4 million, including $735,000 in the third quarter, and has more than $2.4 million in cash. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th, has raised nearly $1.8 million, including $433,000 in the quarter, and has almost $2.4 million in cash.

State Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, who is resigning from the Indiana House effective Wednesday, has reported $1 million in receipts, all of it in the third quarter, including $850,000 he lent his campaign. Braun, who operates an auto parts distribution business, has $1 million in cash.

Three other Republican Senate candidates – Terry Henderson of Hamilton County, Andrew Takami of Floyds Knobs and Mark Hurt of Kokomo – have raised much less money and have relatively little cash.

IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf said President Donald Trump's election in 2016 might be a factor in fundraising for candidates of both parties a year later.

“The surge of excitement and support that many voters had for Trump may likely decline since he is not directly on the ballot. But for Democratic voters, Trump is very much on the ballot in the person of any Republican running for Congress,” Wolf said in an email. “So it's not surprising that Democrats who are cheesed off that Trump won and looking for revenge are supporting Donnelly earlier.”

Wolf pointed out that none of the GOP Senate candidates is from northeast Indiana.

“Northeast Indiana Republicans want to support either someone they know or someone they think will beat Donnelly or both – but they just do not know who has the best chance to win yet so they might be waiting until a front-runner appears in the primary,” Wolf said.

The candidates have little more than six months to build support. Indiana's Republican primary election is May 8.

Messer's four contributors from northeast Indiana during the third quarter combined to give him $3,000. They included Fort Wayne resident Patricia Miller, co-founder of handbag maker Vera Bradley; former state lawmaker Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse; and Columbia City economic development official Jonathan Myers.

Rokita's four contributors gave him $2,750 and included Warsaw orthopedic implants executive and investor Nick Deeter; Pierceton physician Gary Dillon; and Fort Wayne resident Steve Tippman, an executive at the warehousing and construction company Tippman Group.

Braun's contributors were Syracuse residents Gregory Bernheisel, a partner in Considine Sales and Marketing, and his wife, Vicki Bernheisel, who works for Repco Marketing. They combined to contribute $5,400 to Braun.

Henderson's lone itemized contribution from the region was $100 from Fort Wayne resident James Baxter, vice president of 86 Creative, a marketing firm. Neither Hurt nor Takami received itemized contributions from northeast Indiana.

Donnelly's contributors from the region included Fort Wayne resident Stan Ziherl Jr., president of beer distributor Five Star Distributing; Fort Wayne resident Peter Wilson, manager of temperature sensor manufacturer Pyromation; and Jeremy Senk, a partner with the Fort Wayne law firm Carson Boxberger.

Donnelly, first elected in 2012, garnered much more third-quarter money – nearly $304,000 – from political committees, including political action committees, than did his Republican rivals. Donnelly, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, received several contributions from PACs representing farming and food producers.

Messer collected $80,500 from PACs and other political committees, and Rokita received $75,500.

Rokita's backers included six American Indian tribes. Rokita introduced legislation in 2015 and again this year that would let tribes implement their own labor laws.

Henderson, Takami and Hurt are far behind the rest of the field in campaign fundraising.

Henderson, a Hamilton County entrepreneur, has raised $272,000, including about $5,400 in the third quarter, and has $100,000 in cash. He has lent his campaign $250,000 and repaid $150,000 of it.

Takami, a New Albany college administrator, has raised $143,000, including about $28,700 in the third quarter, and has $74,600 in cash. Hurt, a Kokomo attorney, has raised about $100,000, including about $25,000 in the quarter, and has about $3,100 in cash. He has lent his campaign more than $21,000.

bfrancisco@jg.net