House Republican Jim Banks is seeking an open Senate seat in Indiana while incumbent GOP incumbent Mike Braun is running for governor

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Rep. Jim Banks, a struggling defense attorney for former President Donald Trump, announced this week that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat from Indiana, which is being vacated by GOP Senator Mike Braun.

Banks is the first candidate to officially enter the Senate race since Braun said in December he would forego reelection in 2024 and instead run for governor of Indiana. Banks’ announcement comes days after Donald Trump Jr. and the Washington-based anti-tax club Club for Growth began attacking former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as insufficiently conservative while Daniels ponders whether he too seek a seat in the Senate.

Banks have criticized current Senate Republicans for working too hard with the Biden administration and allowing a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill to pass just before Christmas.

“I believe now more than ever that we need Senate conservatives to oppose rather than support the policies of radical Democrats,” Banks told the Associated Press. “The 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 bright agenda that Democrats are pushing in Washington.”

Banks released a video announcement of the campaign, which sparks controversy over transgender girls’ sports, blames China for COVID-19 and claims “anti-Americanism” is being pushed in schools and the military, saying “the radical Democrats and the spineless Republicans will do everything they can to stop me.”

Banks, 43, was first elected to Congress in 2016 from a heavily Republican district in northeastern Indiana, a year after returning from an eight-month military deployment in Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve.

Since then, he has been a frequent guest on Fox News Channel and a Trump ally who voted against confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, months later, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy opposed Banks’ election as the top GOP member on the committee investigating the deadly Capitol riot, citing the need to ” to protect the integrity” of the review.

Banks has supported McCarthy throughout his run for Speaker of the House this month and has maintained ties with Trump, visiting him since he left the White House and accompanying him on a trip to the US-Mexico border in 2021. Banks said that last week he told Trump – who won Indiana by a wide margin in 2016 and 2020 – about his decision to enter the Senate race.

“I told him I’d like his support and I hope he comes down to Indiana and fights with me,” Banks said. “I was proud to fight alongside him on the America First policy and agenda he pushed when he was president and I truly believe we must revisit that.”

Banks’ announcement could mark the start of a race for the Republican nomination in the GOP-dominated state, with one potential candidate being Ukrainian-born MP Victoria Spartz, who has been at times critical of Ukraine’s presidential administration since the Russian invasion Volodymyr Zelenskyy was Ukraine started last February.

But the biggest factor could be whether Daniels decides to enter the race. Daniels, 73, served two terms as governor with high approval ratings in 2013 and ended a decade as Purdue University’s high-profile president in late December.

Not waiting for Daniels’ decision, last week the conservative Club for Growth published an ad stretching back to his days as President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, criticizing him for increasing the national debt. It calls Daniels an “old guard Republican who clings 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 well-funded group is “ready to spend whatever it takes to ensure Hoosiers have a conservative in this Senate seat.”

The group said Tuesday it supports Banks in the race.

“We really appreciate Jim Banks,” McIntosh said. “He’s that kind of new, young Republican leadership that people are looking for.”

Mark Lubbers, a longtime friend and advisor to Daniels, said the Club for Growth helped push failed Republican candidates forward as the party failed to retake the Senate in last year’s election.

“Sad to see that Jim Banks has joined 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.”

From the archive (July 2021): What a congressman’s travels from Indiana to Bedminster, NJ, and the border with Mexico say about the future path of the Republican Party

Banks, who was 31 when he was first elected to the state Senate in 2010 while Daniels was governor, has been keen to heal political divisions.

His bureau Twitter account was suspended for a few weeks in 2021 after he responded to a post about Biden administration official Dr. Rachel Levine, who became the first transgender four-star officer in the U.S. uniformed services, responded by writing, “The title of first female four-star officer is hijacked by a man.”

Banks also opposed Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto last year on a bill banning transgender women from participating 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.”