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Banks gives credibility to Senate opponent with attacks

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Banks gives credibility to Senate opponent with attacks

Dec 08, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Niki Kelly
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Banks gives credibility to Senate opponent with attacks
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Dueling U.S. Senate candidates U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, left, and John Rust. (Banks via Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle, Rust via candidate's X account)

The venom in the U.S. Senate primary has been surprising, especially this early. But the bigger factor is that a sitting GOP congressman has focused so intently on an opponent who might not even be on the ballot.

Third District U.S. Rep. Jim Banks could sit back and say nothing. After all, he is the prohibitive favorite. He has name identification, money in the bank, a Donald Trump endorsement, the support of the Indiana Republican Party and years of experience in office.

Most candidates in this spot would relax and take the W.

But Banks has been on the offense with John Rust while not mentioning two others who have filed to run in the Republican primary.

Rust is also facing a key obstacle: his voting record doesn’t allow him to run on the GOP ballot. That’s because his last two primary votes haven’t been in the Republican primary. He voted Republican in 2016 but Democrat in 2012. He didn’t vote in more recent primaries.

Rust is challenging the state law in court, but it’s a long shot.

Having said that, hours after I filed this editorial, a trial judge ruled that law is unconstitutional, which gives Rust a chance. It will still be appealed though, which limits Rust’s ability to run a campaign at the same time the law is in flux.

That hasn’t stopped Banks.

Barrage

“John Rust kicked off his campaign last week and immediately started self-funding thousands of dollars to buy Indiana’s Senate seat. Where did that money come from?” Banks said in a campaign email statement in August.

He has focused mostly on Rust’s involvement with his family farm, Rose Acre Farms. Rust is no longer chair of the farm’s board.

But he does have personal wealth, and has given more than $1.6 million of his own money to his campaign. He is using it to tour the state in a fancy RV, buy billboards and more.

Just before Thanksgiving, Rose Acre Farms was found by a jury to have conspired with other egg farms to deplete supply and drive up prices. Since then — and even before — Banks has been relentless on his campaign X account:

  • “US jury forces my opponent John Rust and his co-conspirators to pay back $17.7 million in egg price-fixing case today!!! Meanwhile he’s spending millions of dollars he stole from YOU to self fund a US senate campaign in Indiana. SHAMEFUL!!!”
  • “My opponent John Rust is spending millions of dollars to self fund his senate campaign with money we now know he illegally took from hard working families in an elaborate price gouging scheme. He makes George Santos and Bob Menendez look like Boy Scouts!”
  • “I won’t let John Rust rip off Hoosiers like he screwed his customers for so many years. Rust should give millions back to families he robbed instead of spending millions to buy himself a US Senate seat.”
  • “Liberal John Rust is accused of participating in a scheme to restrict the domestic egg supply and illegally raise egg prices for Americans.”

Back and forth

For his part, Rust has fired back, including an advertisement directly attacking Banks.

“He’s scared to death. The Republican establishment in Washington is scared to death of my campaign, and they are working so hard to keep me off the ballot because they know I can and will win in the primary,” Rust said. “Banks is just a terrible candidate. They’re working so hard to protect him because he just will not stand up to competition. They beat everyone else down that has tried to enter the race — that’s not a democracy. People are entitled to a choice.”

On one hand, I don’t understand why the Banks campaign is focused so heavily on Rust. But I also appreciate a candidate who makes the attacks themselves, and doesn’t hand it off to a surrogate of some kind.

“John Rust is a liberal mega-millionaire trying to change the rules to buy a U.S. Senate seat. Of course we have to take him seriously,” Banks told the Capital Chronicle. “… I don’t take the election for granted and there’s too much at stake not to fight back against his cronyism and lies.”

Some people need an opponent to get their competitive juices flowing. But I would prefer Banks put his energy to work that helps Hoosiers and Americans instead of punching down on candidate that has so little chance.