FORT WAYNE – The intense, bitter Indiana Republican primary for the United States Senate nomination has apparently come down to a choice between one of the cardboard cutouts or a Democrat. 

Or perhaps one of the Swamp Brothers.

Given these choices, combined with Trump successfully dominating everyone’s daily lives and general lack of interest in any other politics, it is not surprising that in spite of being inundated with advertising of all types, an extraordinary number of likely voters remain undecided. Furthermore, I personally think the undecided vote is understated. There is a new type of undecided – the weekly switcher. From people I talk to, and as indicated by erratic polling, voters are still going back and forth among the options.

One reason is that voters believe that politicians won’t tell the truth about themselves and the media is so biased that it is untrustworthy. Only the negative ads tell the truth and thus everybody must be terrible. 

First let’s discuss the cardboard cutouts. Unfortunately for them, the two congressmen are about the same age, look vaguely similar, went to Wabash College, have blonde wives and nice families, and nearly identical voting records. It is no shock that Braun’s cardboard cutouts ad worked as a concept.

The two congressmen have reinforced that image, not with their votes in Congress, but by the behavior of their campaigns. They made it personal, not policy-based. The leaks about Rokita possibly misusing the Republican database, presumably from Messer supporters, should have been resolved or dropped long before now. The charges perhaps give some insight into character the of both campaigns, as does the attempt to smear Rokita with a leaked memo about his tendency to control details. 

Similarly, debating Luke Messer’s long ago DUIs, and his allegedly concealing one before a nominating caucus that put him in office for the first time, also potentially gives an insight into the character of both campaigns.  “These guys,” as Mike Braun personally calls them, are far too often acting like the cardboard cutouts or swamp creatures they are alleged to be.

Then there is the dust-up about Rokita’s Trump-Pence signs. They are designed to look like an endorsement by Trump-Pence though they correctly say the endorsement is by his Indiana campaign leaders, though in small print that you may or may not notice. Trump’s campaign, for a variety of reasons that certainly included some strong-arming from the other campaigns, said they should be removed. Rokita’s campaign responded with a television ad that attempted to clarify who actually made the endorsement. That ad has been reinforced by Messer’s highlighting it. The more they complain, to this point, the more it reminds voters that the Indiana Trump leaders back Rokita.

While it was not appropriate to mislead that deliberately, that tactic is being used by Messer as well. In the debate, for example, Messer slyly said that he coached his son’s basketball team like other Hoosier dads. Except he’s a Virginia dad coaching Virginia players, which is a deliberate attempt to mislead. And it is so much like Evan Bayh shooting hoops with his Virginia boys that it is an eerie Indiana reminder of a losing campaign. The point here is that Messer often does exactly the same things as Rokita, only in a more polished way. Rokita uses boxing gloves and “Make America Great Again” baseball caps when he does it.

Every sign indicates that Braun is taking away votes from both of them. The larger the turnout, the better for Braun.  Braun, in fact, has the best chance for a sizeable victory. But then there is the Democrat thing.

Braun has offered no compelling reason for his party switch. It wasn’t about Donald Trump because Braun switched parties to run for the state legislature. He won’t answer whether he voted for Obama or Hillary. He associated himself with the gun control, pro-abortion, big government party for his entire life before he ran for the General Assembly.  Thus, many Republicans decide to vote for Braun, then pause. When Braun says that Rokita and Messer vote the same way 95% of the time, as if that is bad, is he saying that his support of conservative Republican principles would be less than 95%?  Is he saying that he will break ranks in a potentially 50-50 split Senate more often? On what issues will he defy the president, who has been supported on almost every vote by Rokita and Messer? 

Braun’s gimmick, equally as deceptive as anything Rokita or Messer has done or said, is to act like any one individual is going to change the fundamental votes. And picking a couple of issues such as fast track (which actually is what gives the president the authority to do what Braun says he wants to give the president, which apparently Braun doesn’t understand) or the budget (which Trump supported and then gave himself political cover by whining about it, something that apparently Braun doesn’t understand either) is not the point.

There are at least 300 votes per year. Will Braun support the president and the GOP 95% of the time and become, by his definition, a Swamp Brother or a cardboard twin, or not? If we want a bipartisan senator who votes with Democrats, we already have Joe Donnelly.

This dilemma – “I want change but not another Democrat who says he agrees with me but doesn’t” – is why this race is likely to remain fluid until the end. 

Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.