IN Focus: Trump, Pence camps taking different sides on Senate primary?

INDIANAPOLIS - Just one day after Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) announced his intention to join the U.S. Senate race in 2018, his likely primary opponent was praised in a controversial letter written by the two men who chaired last year's Indiana Trump campaign, creating a potential rift between some loyalists of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The letter, written by 2016 state campaign chair Rex Early and vice chairman Tony Samuel, was sent to a mailing list of Trump supporters, and praised Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) for being "the one potential (Senate) candidate to stand with President Trump unapologetically."

The Messer campaign has pushed back on that assertion, disputing the notion that Messer has not stood with the President. And with many Pence loyalists supporting Messer's campaign, it's created an interesting dynamic ahead of what could be a bruising primary next year.

Messer's campaign finance chair is the vice president's brother, and a potential candidate for Messer's seat in Congress.

"(The Messer campaign has) almost fifty people on our committee, we've got some superstars who've been long affiliated with our family," said Greg Pence, who wouldn't comment on whether he was interested in running for Messer's seat, instead saying he was only focused currently on the Messer campaign and its official launch next month.

He was critical of the letter praising Rokita, noting that its authors were not currently part of any official Trump campaign structure. (The current Trump re-election campaign is nationally based, and happens to include Greg Pence's son, who serves as deputy executive director for the national campaign committee.)

Nonetheless, with an official decision on a Senate bid coming soon, the Rokita campaign team was quick to seize on the controversial letter, blasting Messer and other party leaders in a press release on Thursday.

“Despite his efforts to fool Hoosier Republicans and cozy up to President Trump now, what is very clear is that Messer was less than enthusiastic, and even openly critical of Donald Trump,” said Rokita campaign manager Bryan Reed.  “Luke Messer can try to rewrite history, but his interviews and statements are part of the public record.  Hoosier Republicans need to know who stands with Trump, and who were the country club Republican elites who hoped to protect their control and their rigged system.”

Samuel also talked about the controversial letter on this week's edition of IN Focus, joining our panel to share his perspective on the situation.

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