John Rust appears before the Indiana Election Commission on Feb. 27, 2024, in Indianapolis. The commission ultimately voted to remove Rust from the 2024 Republican primary ballot. Casey Smith | Indiana Capital Chronicle

By Casey Smith | Indiana Capital Chronicle

A Marion County judge denied U.S. Senate hopeful John Rust’s request for a preliminary injunction on Thursday, keeping the Seymour egg farmer off Indiana’s GOP primary ballot.

Marion Superior Court Judge Kurt Eisgruber said in his ruling that the Indiana Election Commission (IEC) properly interpreted the state’s political party affiliation statute when it voted in favor of Rust’s six campaign challengers during a meeting last month.

Eisgruber’s ruling means U.S. Rep. Jim Banks will be the only Republican candidate for Indiana’s U.S. Senate race in May’s primary election. Banks has also already earned an endorsement from the Indiana Republican Party for his Senate bid.

Even so, Rust said he’s not giving up.

“I have been fighting back against the establishment from the very beginning of this campaign and my fight is far from over,” Rust said in a statement on Thursday. “While today’s decision was not what we were hoping for, I am as determined as ever to get Indiana’s two primary law overturned. We are immediately appealing in the Indiana Courts and, if necessary, will bring our case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”

Rust’s petition for judicial review was filed late last month, one day after the commission voted unanimously to block his Republican candidacy.

The basis for the state panel’s decision was an Indiana party affiliation law that prohibits candidates from running whose last two primary votes don’t match the party they wish to represent.

The Indiana Supreme Court last week issued a formal opinion finding the statute constitutional.

Rust’s two most recent primary votes were Republican in 2016 and Democrat in 2012 — meaning under the law he can’t appear on the Republican ballot for the 2024 May primary election. The law allows an exception, should the county’s party chair grant it. Jackson County Republican Party Chair Amanda Lowery elected not to do so in this case.

Rust stood before Eisgruber on Tuesday to make his case for an injunction that would have put the IEC’s decision on hold and allowed him access to the ballot.

Michelle Harter, Rust’s attorney, said in court that the IEC misapplied the law to Rust. She argued that during the entirety of the candidate filing period, Rust was not legally obligated to comply with the two-primary rule because it was put on-hold by a trial judge.

But in his ruling, Eisgruber said the law “did not cease to exist” when the trial court issued an injunction in Rust’s favor.

He also pointed to an order from the Indiana State Supreme Court that stayed the injunction in time for Rust’s candidacy to be challenged. The party affiliation law was back in effect as Rust stood before the election commission.

“Even when the state was enjoined from enforcing the statute, the affiliation statute was still duly enacted and effective. Rust was subject to its provisions,” Eisgruber wrote. “When the IEC removed Rust from the ballot, they had full authority to do so because the Indiana Supreme Court had already stayed the trial court’s order enjoining enforcement of the statute before the IEC’s enforcement action occurred.”

The judge added that the high court’s later order — which denied relief from the stay — “further supports the IEC’s decision made on that same date.”

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