Indiana high court weighs Senate hopeful's challenge to limit on who can seek party nominations

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Monday over the state's challenge to a lower court ruling that would allow a man to run for one of the state's U.S. Senate seats as a Republican, even though the state GOP doesn't back his candidacy.

A state law says a candidate's past two primary ballots must be cast with their affiliated party or a county party chair must approve the candidacy, but farmer John Rust challenged the statute and a lower court ruled in his favor, granting a temporary injunction allowing him to run in the May primary as a Republican.

Rust, the former chair of the egg supplier Rose Acre Farms, is vying to replace Sen. Mike Braun, who is vacating the seat to run for governor.

Rust voted as a Republican in the 2016 primary but as a Democrat in 2012. He said he didn't vote in the 2020 Republican primary due to the pandemic and the lack of competitive Republican races in Jackson County, and that his votes for Democrats were for people he personally knew.

The county’s Republican Party chair said in a July meeting with Rust that she would not certify him, according to the lawsuit. Rust has said she later cited his primary voting record.

Rust filed a lawsuit in September against Secretary of State Diego Morales, the Indiana Election Commission and Jackson County Republican Party Chair Amanda Lowery challenging the law. Rust officially filed with the office Feb. 5 to run as a Republican, according to state records,

Indiana's five Supreme Court justices questioned attorneys Monday about the state's interest in regulating primary candidates.

Rust's attorney, Michelle Harter, said the law wrongly gives the state the power to do a political party's work.

Benjamin Jones, representing Morales, said candidates don't have the right to affiliate themselves with a party. He said Rust can still run in the general election as an independent or write-in candidate if blocked from the Republican ballot.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush questioned whether running as an independent or write-in is an adequate alternative. She said the court will rule on the appeal at an unspecified date.

Following the hearing, Rust told reporters that he believes the court will uphold the lower court's ruling.

“Elections are for the people to decide," he said.

Regardless of the court's decision, Rust faces an uphill challenge for the GOP nomination. The state GOP and former President Donald Trump have endorsed U.S. Rep. Jim Banks in the Senate race. According to campaign finance records, Rust has mainly bankrolled his campaign, giving it $2.5 million last year.

Banks ended the year with more than $3 million in cash on hand, according to records.