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Two School Choice Champions in Congress Squared Off for a Senate Seat. Both Lost.

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 09, 2018 2 min read

In a heated primary battle between two prominent supporters of school choice on Capitol Hill, a third candidate stepped in and beat them.

Indiana GOP Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita lost in a three-way race for the GOP nomination to run for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat to Mike Braun, a businessman. Braun will be the Republican nominee against Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in the November Senate election. He captured 41.2 percent of the vote on Tuesday with 99 percent of precincts reporting, with Rokita getting 30 percent and Messer earning 28.9 percent.

On the section of his campaign website covering his main positions, Braun did not highlight education, although he does advocate for less government spending. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment about his positions on K-12 issues.

We profiled the potential face-off between Messer and Rokita last summer, before either had officially declared their candidacy for the GOP nomination. The two have been rivals for some time, and traded personal accusations as they sought the nomination, which may have created an opening for Braun to step in and win the primary.

Messer has previously championed a policy that would allow students to use some federal money at the public or private school of their choice. And he’s also supported creating a new tax break for those who home school their children. A former Messer staffer, Rob Goad, worked on education issues on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign—Goad then went to work on K-12 in the White House.

Rokita is the chairman of the subcommittee that deals with elementary and secondary education in the House. He held a hearing on school choice in his subcommittee last year, and also worked with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on creating federal tax-credit scholarships to bolster school choice. Apart from school choice, Rokita was the sponsor of the successful move by Congress last year to repeal Obama-era regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

When we talked to Indiana state GOP Rep. Bob Behning, who knows both Messer and Rokita and has also backed school choice policies in the Hoosier State, Behning downplayed the idea their signature K-12 policy would come up a lot during the race: “I don’t know that I see them using school choice as something they’re battling over.”

And indeed, as Carolyn Phenicie reported for the 74 earlier this year, choice didn’t really come up as a campaign issue as Messer and Rokita jockeyed for the GOP nod.

Photo: The U.S. Capitol (Susan Walsh/AP)


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