IN Focus: Messer under scrutiny, new candidate enters Senate race

INDIANAPOLIS – Republican Senate candidate Luke Messer is under scrutiny because of two DUI’s in his past and questions that have resulted about whether those incidents were properly disclosed to party leaders when Messer was chosen to replace a lawmaker who was killed by a drunk driver.

Messer got his start in state politics in 2003 when he was chosen to replace State Rep. Roland Stine, who was killed in a crash caused by a drunk driver.

But according to our news gathering partners at the Indy Star, Messer did not disclose the DUI’s in his past to all of the party leaders and precinct committee members who chose him for that seat.

“The question here is, should he have disclosed this information to the people making that decision, and then of course, it’s pure speculation as to what kind of impact that would have had on the race,” said IndyStar reporter Tony Cook in an interview with CBS4. “But certainly some folks we talked with said he probably wouldn’t have been a candidate if that information had been known at the time.”

According to the Indy Star, Messer got a DUI when he was 21 years old while he was still a student at Wabash, and again when he was 26 while working for a law firm in Marion County.

Messer’s campaign released the following statement, blaming his opponents for the uproar:

“Luke has acknowledged and apologized for these mistakes which occurred more than 23 years ago. Both instances have been public and were used unsuccessfully by Republican and Democrat opponents in past campaigns. Indiana voters will see the latest attack for what it is: more last minute dirty tricks from (Todd) Rokita’s failing campaign.”

In a race that’s been described as the GOP’s ‘nastiest’ primary, Messer, Rokita and former State Rep. Mike Braun are fighting for the Republican nomination to go up against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in the general election this fall.

Rokita and Braun have also dealt with unfavorable headlines in recent days, with Rokita's campaign being rebuked and asked to remove campaign signs that touted a potentially misleading endorsement claim, and Braun dealing with a new report about his business practices.

Also this past week, a new candidate announced his intention to enter the race as an independent.

Carmel native and Purdue University graduate Nathan Altman launched his bid for U.S. Senate Wednesday evening at The Speak Easy in Indianapolis, a tech hub he helped launch along with its neighbor DeveloperTown.

But to even have his name appear on the November ballot, Altman will first have to gather 26,699 signatures, a requirement of state law.

“I’m hoping I resonate with a lot of folks that feel either in the middle or feel they aren’t represented,” Altman said in an interview Wednesday.

Altman, 30, acknowledges and embraces an unconventional approach.

His campaign website lists no policy positions on key issues. He said in our interview that is on purpose.

“It’s important to build that system first,” he said. “And then we break apart the issue and we go deep into it and understand what constraints are there. These are really, really challenging issues.”

Beyond signatures, Altman will also face immense fundraising pressure and the challenge of simple name recognition across the state. His campaign is receiving help from Unite America, an organization committed to independent candidates nationwide.

“There’s always room for an independent,” Mike Murphy said, a former Republican state lawmaker and panelist on IN Focus. “(But) there’s not room for a winning independent.”

Murphy said independent candidates conventionally take votes from Republicans, though it’s unclear what impact Altman may have if he is able to get on the ballot.

“I think it would take a tremendous scandal of momentous personal scale against the Republican or Democratic nominee for an independent to have a shot at all,” said Murphy.

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