By BRIAN A. HOWEY

NASHVILLE, Ind. - U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita all but declared his candidacy for the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate nomination which will likely pit him against U.S. Rep. Luke Messer. It could set up the second consecutive cycle where two GOP members of Congress square off for a Senate seat, this one held by U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly.

Rokita has been telling Republican insiders that polling he conducted last summer when he ran a 12-day campaign for governor showed him within 5% of Donnelly. Rokita lost the Indiana Republican Central Committee vote to now Gov. Eric Holcomb.

On Friday, Rokita political strategist Tim Edson told HPI, "Rep. Rokita is strongly considering challenging Joe Donnelly and is making preparations to hit the ground running if he decides to launch a Senate bid. He is receiving a lot of encouragement to challenge Donnelly from Hoosiers across the state whom he has known for years. Todd believes Indiana needs a Senator who will heed the will of Hoosiers and work with President Trump to solve problems and advance a conservative agenda. Joe Donnelly is committed to representing Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, not the people of Indiana.”

Last week, Messer told HPI, “Political calculations will have nothing to do with my decision. I’m just trying to figure out if this is the best way we can serve the state.” As for a potential showdown with Rokita, a former two-term secretary of state, Messer said, "I hope it doesn’t because I’m friends with all members of our delegation, but it will have no bearing on my decision." GOP sources tell HPI that Rokita will speak at several 6th CD Lincoln dinners in the coming months.

State Sen. Mike Delph, former Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke are others who are considering a challenge to U.S> Sen. Joe Donnelly.