Republican, Democrat join race for Braun’s U.S. Senate seat

Egg farmer John Rust and city-county lawmaker Keith Potts join fray

By: - July 7, 2023 6:30 am
senate senate registration registration

Hundreds of Hoosiers met the filing deadline to run for state and federal offices. (Getty Images)

Two more Hoosiers — a Republican and a Democrat — are launching bids for U.S. Senate, with each hoping to take Indiana’s seat currently held by Sen. Mike Braun. But it’s unclear if one of the newly announced candidates will be eligible to run.

Braun’s leaving the position to run for Indiana governor, opening the doors to a growing slate of potential successors.

John Rust (Photo from Rust’s Twitter account)

Republican John Rust, chair of a major egg farm, filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on July 1, while Democrat Keith Potts, a member of Indianapolis’ City-County Council, announced his Senate run Thursday.

Rust joins Republican frontrunner U.S. Rep. Jim Banks in the fight for the GOP nomination. Potts will face off against former state lawmaker Marc Carmichael for the Democratic nomination. A spate of additional candidates from a variety of parties have also registered with the FEC.

“Hoosiers deserve an experienced leader in the Senate that is ready to stand up for them, fight against the D.C. insiders, and take on the radical agenda of the Left in a way they have never seen before,” Rust said in a written statement to the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “I feel strongly that Jim Banks isn’t that person.”

Potts said that he was “proud” to start his campaign.

“The next sixteen months are going to be an incredible opportunity to share our optimistic vision for Indiana’s future,” Potts continued, in a written statement. “Our campaign is already hitting the ground running and we look forward to tackling the challenges that face families from Gary to French Lick: solid stable middle class jobs here and not abroad, healthcare that won’t break the bank if someone gets sick or hurt, and ensuring that everyone gets a chance to pursue the American Dream and make our country even stronger.”

Who they are — and reactions to their runs

Rust chairs the board behind a major Hoosier egg producer, Rose Acre Farms, and says he’s a sixth-generation farmer.

The prospect that he’d run for Senate generated a flurry of pushback from prominent right-wing personalities and lawmakers, who painted him as an anti-Donald Trump self-funder in statements to the conservative Breitbart News.

“Jim Banks is an incredibly strong America First conservative and it’s a shame that an establishment self-funder is even considering a challenge to him,” Donald Trump Jr. told that publication. “But rest assured, MAGA (Make America Great Again) will fight like hell to ensure that Jim is victorious against any big money RINO (Republican In Name Only) who decides to run against him.”

Rust declined to comment about his stance on the former president, nor about his funding plans.

“Stay tuned …” he wrote.

Keith Potts (Photo from the Indianapolis City-County Council)

Potts, meanwhile, works in the music and arts industry outside his part-time legislative position. That includes teaching after-school music classes and working with local theaters and orchestras, according to his council biography.

Carmichael welcomed his new opponent in written comments Thursday morning. As he did, he took a dig at Banks, accusing the congressman of “threaten(ing) potential primary opponents with personal attacks and threats.”

“More voices from more perspectives make for a stronger Democrat Party,” Carmichael continued. “I look forward to working with Keith to take the Democrat’s positive message to Indiana voters into 2024 and I will accept their decision in the May 2024 primary as to who they want to carry the fight to Jim Banks going forward.”

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, was widely rumored to be considering a Senate run in January but backed away shortly after a conservative super PAC with ties to Banks aired an attack ad.

Potential challenge

Though Rust has filed campaign finance paperwork, he may not be eligible to seek the Republican nomination.

To run in a party’s primary, Indiana law requires a candidate to belong to that party — listing two ways to prove affiliation.

The simplest is a voting record. For the most recent two primaries in which a candidate voted, they must have pulled a ballot for that party.

But Rust hasn’t, as first reported in Adam Wren’s Importantville newsletter. Rust took part in the 2016 Republican primary, according to voting records obtained by the Capital Chronicle. But his second-most recent primary vote, in 2012, was in the Democratic primary.

That means he’ll have to prove his party using the second method: getting his county chair to certify that he’s a Republican, and filing the document with the state.

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Rust’s filing said he’s based out of Seymour. Jackson County Republican Party Chair Amanda Lowery said Rust had asked her for a meeting, and that she was hoping to schedule one for next week.

“Any kind of decision I’m going to make, I’m going to have a conversation with Mr. Rust first,” Lowery said.

But Rust’s voting record has led opponents to pounce.

“Indiana is a conservative state and deserves a conservative Senator,” Banks said in a statement. “John Rust is a liberal Democrat trying to run in the GOP Primary but Hoosier Republicans won’t buy it.”

Rust declined to comment on his eligibility.

State campaign finance records contained no entries for a John Rust from the Seymour area. But he’s chair of Rose Acre Farm’s board, and that entity donated roughly $42,000 to Republican candidates over the last two-plus decades — including $5,000 to Braun in 2022.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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