IN Focus: Panelists discuss this week’s top stories, race for Senate

INDIANAPOLIS - How are Indiana elected officials reacting to another controversial week in Washington?

And what will 2018 hold for voters in the Hoosier state?

A year-and-a-half ahead of the midterm elections, Indiana is already seeing a hint of what’s to come.

Majority Forward, a political action committee, started air a television ad in the past week highlighting the work of Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) who faces re-election next year.

“Those are not my ads,” Donnelly said Tuesday with a smile. “They seem like very nice ads, but they’re not mine.”

The ad underscores the attention Indiana is about to receive, in what will become one of the most closely-watched U.S. Senate races in the country.

“The only pressure I feel is to do a good job for Hoosiers every day,” Donnelly said. “I don’t worry about any other aspect of it.”

Indiana Republicans, though, are fundraising and preparing for a fight.

“A race that we are going to focus on with the most of our energy, the most resources and the most time,” Kyle Hupfer said, Indiana Republican Party Chairman, at their annual spring dinner earlier this month. “It’s the race to defeat Joe Donnelly.”

Two likely high-profile candidates, Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, attended the dinner, shaking hands and building support.

“I’m working the room,” Rokita said. “That’s right.”

“Well I think it’s important we put together a strong campaign against Joe Donnelly,” Messer said in an interview.

Neither Messer nor Rokita have official declared their bid, but both behind the scenes have added staff and infrastructure to launch a campaign, potentially foreshadowing an expensive and bruising primary.

“The primaries have a purpose,” Rokita said. “And they’re for the people to decide who they want representing them, not Indianapolis elite power-brokers, not anyone else.”

Messer said an official decision will come “in the next couple months.”

“This is part of it,” he said. “This is an important base. Any campaign for a statewide office is a team effort.”

Election analysts are already closely watching Indiana, a race that will help determine the fate of the U.S. Senate.

“I have no interest in the overall makeup of the Senate,” Donnelly said. “I just want to represent Hoosiers well.”