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Debate Number Three: Attacks and Some Substance in Ft. Wayne

It got deep when the three Senate candidates talked about opioids and the country's spending problem. It got silly when they talked about yard signs.

FT. WAYNE, Ind.--If you've seen the ads on TV or heard them on the radio, then much of the third debate for the Republican primary for U.S. Senate probably sounded like a rerun. The three candidates, former state rep. Mike Braun, Rep. Todd Rokita and Rep. Luke Messer, rehashed some of their attacks on one another and repeated some of their positions on the debt, immigration, schools safety and gun rights, tariffs, term limits and opioids.

The debate was sponsored by the Allen County Republican Party, and moderated by Pat Miller, afternoon host at WOWO radio in Ft. Wayne.

Candidates answered questions by a panel of journalists from across the state.

Like Pres. Trump

"Who do you think among us on the stage is gonna be more like Pres. Trump?" asked Braun. All three candidates have said they believe that is what the race is about, and this time Braun asserted himself more in that regard. "Who has built their cred in the private sector? Who has got the pathway that makes them an independent thinker?"

Messer again declared himself to be Trump's biggest buddy in the House, invoking Trump in a question about opioid abuse.

"It's another example where Pres. Trump is leading. He's declared this a national emergency and we're getting after a serious plan to deal with this crisis," said Messer. The opioid discussion may have been the deepest of the debate, with Rokita declaring it a cultural problem, unsolvable by simply throwing more money at it.


"We have a cultural problem that we have to correct. We ought to be enlisting clergy, non-profys, community and neighborhoods and not just rely of the federal government, or we'll fail," said Rokta, adding. "Yes, it's a disease. Yes, it's a law enforcement component. The last thing we should do is be legalizing marijuana. That would only exacerbate the problem."

All three agreed that opioid addiction is a disease and treatment should be part of the solution.

"You're gonna need somebody that will go there not afraid to speak up, because that lobby is one of the strongest out there," said Braun, declaring he's not beholding to any drug companies and that they should share some of the responsibility.

Yard signs

The Rokita yard signs were addressed in comments from Messer.

"Last week, in an extraordinary step, Pres. Trump's campaign admonished him and told him to take down advertisements because he was faking the president's support," said Messer. Rokita retorted with, "I talk with Pres. Trump a lot, and we don't talk about yard signs."

Rokita twice denied he was asked to take down signs that looked as if the Trump/Pence re-election team had endorsed him.

Guess who won

All three men immediately sent out press releases claiming to have won the debate. 

"When any of the three candidates were asked tonight at the latest brutal GOP debate about how to address the opioid epidemic or protect Medicare and Social Security, none of them had anything to give Hoosiers but deflection and platitudes," said Democrat Party Chairman John Zody. 

"But when the opportunity arose, all three candidates jumped at the chance to attack Rep. Braun’s voting history, Congressman Rokita’s yard signs, or Congressman Messer’s DUIs. There are only two weeks left for the Indiana Republican candidates to continue to rip each other apart instead of offering a real vision for voters. But Hoosier Democrats are more united than ever to fight for Joe Donnelly and keep his message of hard work and common sense in the Senate," he said.

The next meet up

The next debate is the one in which Rokita initially refused to be a participant-April 30, at WFYI studios in Indianapolis, hosted by the Indiana Debate Commission and moderated by political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz.

PHOTO: Chris Davis/Emmis

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