INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Rep. Jim Banks, a combative defender of former President Donald Trump, announced on Tuesday that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat from Indiana being vacated by GOP Sen. Mike Braun.
Banks is the first candidate to formally enter the Senate race since Braun said in December that he would forgo a 2024 reelection bid and run instead for Indiana governor. Banks’ announcement comes days after Donald Trump Jr. and the Washington-based anti-tax Club for Growth began attacking former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as insufficiently conservative while Daniels ponders whether to also seek the Senate seat.
Banks criticized current Senate Republicans for cooperating too much with the Biden administration and allowing passage of a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill just before Christmas.
“I just believe now more than ever that we need conservatives in the Senate who are going to fight back against radical Democrat policies instead of going along with it,” Banks told The Associated Press. “Republican primary voters are looking for a conservative fighter, someone to go to Washington and fight for Hoosier family values and against the radical, socialist and woke agenda that Democrats are pushing in Washington.”
Banks released a campaign video announcement that invokes disputes over transgender girls’ sports, blames China for COVID-19 and claims that “anti-Americanism” is being pushed in schools and the military, saying “the radical Democrats and the spineless Republicans are going to do everything that they can to stop me.”
Banks, 43, was first elected to Congress from a heavily Republican district in northeastern Indiana in 2016, the year after he returned from an eight-month military deployment to Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve.
He has since become a frequent Fox News Channel guest and Trump ally who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., months later rejected Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s pick of Banks as the top GOP member on the committee investigating the deadly Capitol insurrection, citing the need to protect the review’s “integrity.”
Banks backed McCarthy throughout his fight to become House speaker this month and has kept up ties with Trump, visiting with him since he left the White House and joining him on a 2021 trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. Banks said that last week he told Trump — who won Indiana by wide margins in 2016 and 2020 — of his decision to enter the Senate race.
“I told him I’d like to have his support, hope he comes to Indiana and campaigns with me,” Banks said. “I was proud to fight alongside him for the America First policies and agenda that he pushed when he was president and believe strongly we need to go back to that.”
Banks’ announcement could be the start of a competitive race for the Republican nomination in the GOP-dominated state, with one potential candidate being Ukrainian-born Rep. Victoria Spartz, who has been critical at times of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last February.
But the biggest factor could be whether Daniels decides to enter the race. The 73-year-old Daniels completed two terms as governor in early 2013 with high approval ratings and finished a decade as the high-profile president of Purdue University at the end of December.
Not waiting for Daniels’ decision, the conservative Club for Growth released an ad last week reaching back to his time as President George W. Bush’s budget director to criticize him for increasing the federal debt. It calls Daniels an “old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.”
Club for Growth President David McIntosh, who was an Indiana congressman in the 1990s, said the deep-pocketed group is “ready to spend what it takes to make sure Hoosiers have a conservative in that Senate seat.”
McIntosh said the group hasn’t decided whether to back a candidate in the race.
“We think very highly of Jim Banks,” McIntosh said. “He is that type of new, young Republican leadership that people are looking for.”
Mark Lubbers, a longtime Daniels friend and adviser, said the Club for Growth helped push failed Republican candidates as the party fell short of recapturing the Senate in last year’s election.
“Sad to see that Jim Banks has thrown in with them,” Lubbers said. “And apparently they think it’s political genius to poke the bear with a sharp stick. We’ll see how that works out.”
Banks, who was 31 when he was first elected to the state Senate in 2010 while Daniels was governor, has been eager to pull at political divides.
His congressional office Twitter account was suspended for a couple weeks in 2021 after he responded to a post about Biden administration official Dr. Rachel Levine becoming the first transgender four-star officer in the U.S. uniformed services by writing: “The title of first female four-star officer gets taken by a man.”
Banks also lined up last year against Republican Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill banning transgender females from competing in girls’ school sports. He urged state lawmakers, who later overrode the veto, to “send a message to the rest of the nation that Indiana values women.”