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Rokita's House Seat Is Solidly Republican, but Few Republicans Are Pursuing It

Ex-Pence aide, Army vet are only announced GOP contenders so far for open seat

(AVON) - The last time Todd Rokita's safely Republican congressional district was open, the primary drew 13 candidates. With Rokita running for the Senate, it's open again, but the race isn't drawing nearly as much interest so far.

Former Mike Pence aide Diego Morales and Army veteran Jared Thomas are running, and Steve Braun resigned as head of Indiana's Department of Workforce Development to gear up for a run. But that's it.

Fourth District Republican Chairman Mike O'Brien says Greencastle Representative Jim Baird is considering the race, but says for a lot of state legislators, normally a prime candidate pool for congressional seats, the timing is wrong. He says several legislators who might have considered running are either raising young children and unwilling to uproot their families, or nearing retirement and not interested in tackling a new commitment.

And O'Brien says an increasingly nasty atmosphere in and toward Washington may make the prospect of serving in Congress a lot less attractive."If you're doing great in business or in Indiana politics, it's really hard to figure out what you're trading up to," O'Brien says.

O'Brien says it doesn't matter whether the field is large or small -- he says voters will have good candidates to choose from even if no one else gets in. And he says there's little danger of the seat changing hands -- Rokita averaged 65% of the vote in three elections on the current district lines.

Despite those long odds, Democrats currently have more contenders than Republicans, with Army veteran Tobi Beck, Ivy Tech-Lafayette dean Sherry Shipley, and activist Don DeYoung in the race so far.

The Senate contest has also opened Luke Messer's Sixth District seat, but that race is expected to feature a much better known name in Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence's brother. Even Pence's prospective entry hasn't shrunk the field, with Greenfield State Senator Mike Crider, businessman Jonathan Lamb, and 2016 insurgent candidate Stephen MacKenzie already running, and Oldenburg State Senator Jean Leising said to be considering a bid.

In the six open-seat primaries since Rokita won Rep. Steve Buyer's seat in 2010, there's been an average field of seven candidates for the incumbent party. Filing doesn't start until January.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-4th) (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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