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Sunday, December 03, 2017 1:00 am

5 senate hopefuls to debate in city

At Lincoln Dinner; primary 2 weeks later

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The five Republican candidates for a U.S. Senate seat representing Indiana have agreed to take part in a “debate-style program” April 23 in Fort Wayne, according to the leader of the Allen County GOP.

The debate will be conducted at the local party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner at Ramada Plaza Fort Wayne Hotel and Conference Center at Coldwater and Washington Center roads.

The event will occur two weeks before Indiana's primary election on May 8.

“The excitement and energy level of the electorate will be at a pinnacle at the time that the Lincoln Day Dinner is scheduled to occur,” Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine said in a telephone interview. 

He said the audience “will want to see just who these people are that they see at every commercial break throughout the day and to learn more about them than just what a 60-second commercial or a 1-minute sound bite on an earned news presentation provides.”

The Ramada Plaza ballroom can seat about 500 people.

Shine said he has received commitments from each of the announced Republican Senate candidates: auto parts distributor Mike Braun of Jasper, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt, U.S. Rep. Luke Messer of Greensburg, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita of Brownsburg, and New Albany college administrator Andrew Takami. They are competing for the GOP nomination to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in next year's general election.

“Each and every one of them indicated the importance of Allen County and the 3rd District for their campaigns, given the fact that the 3rd District is the most Republican congressional district in the state,” Shine said.

“Once we had a date that everyone could agree on, they were all quite eager to commit.

“There was no hesitation whatsoever in agreeing to participate in the event,” he said.

Shine said he has been working on the project for two months.

He said the “debate-style program” likely will consist of a panel of journalists who will be asking questions of the candidates, each of whom will be encouraged to interact with one another. The program will start after dinner and last 60 to 90 minutes.

An Indianapolis public TV station typically plays host to debates involving statewide political candidates and organized by the Indiana Debate Commission, but Fort Wayne has seen its share in recent years. U.S. Senate candidates debated at IPFW in 2010, gubernatorial candidates debated at WFWA PBS39 in 2012, and candidates for public instruction superintendent debated at IPFW in 2016.

Shine predicted that the April 23 Lincoln Day Dinner “will be the premier 2018 primary election event” in the state for Republicans.

“It will be a magnet for political aficionados” and likely will draw candidates from around Indiana to watch the Senate hopefuls debate, he said. 

The GOP Senate field could grow or shrink by then. Declarations of candidacy must be filed with the state between Jan. 10 and Feb. 9, with every Senate candidate required to gather the signatures of at least 500 certified registered voters in each of Indiana's nine congressional districts.

bfrancisco@jg.net