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Coats Retirement Sparks Hoosier State Free-for-All

Coats Retirement Sparks Hoosier State Free for All
Coats chats with Sen. Lamar Alexander not long after announcing his retirement plans. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

An open Senate seat in Indiana could lead to a GOP free-for-all in 2016, with nearly every Republican member of the Hoosier State’s congressional delegation showing interest.

Of the seven Republicans in the House delegation, five are at least giving a bid consideration.

GOP Sen. Dan Coats’ Tuesday retirement announcement sparked a behind-the-scenes frenzy, as Reps. Jackie Walorski, Marlin Stutzman, Todd Young, Todd Rokita and Susan W. Brooks all contemplated jumping in the race to succeed him. Eric Holcomb, Coats’ chief of staff in the state, and state Speaker Brian Bosma also are weighing runs, according to Indiana GOP operatives.

“I do think there’ll be potentially a number of Indiana House members,” said GOP Rep. Larry Bucshon, one member of the delegation not planning to jump in. (Rep. Luke Messer is the other Republican not interested.)

“We have a great House team, the seven of us. I think a lot of my colleagues are well-qualified to run for the Senate. I don’t want to speculate on whether they will or not, but I do think there’ll be others other than Indiana House members that will run in the state.”

Coats is the third senator to announce a retirement this cycle. But his exit marks the first open Senate race in a competitive state. Indiana voted for President Barack Obama by a fraction of a point in 2008, the first time a Democrat had carried it since 1964. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney halted that momentum with a 10-point victory margin there in 2012.

Republicans have a decided advantage in the state. But national Democratic sources point to Sen. Joe Donnelly’s 2012 victory against gaffe-tarnished Republican Richard Murdock as proof they can make the race competitive. (The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call shifted the race rating Tuesday from Safe to Favored Republican.)

“Obviously I do think Democrats can win the seat,” Donnelly told CQ Roll Call after votes Tuesday.

Democrats could be helped if this crowd engaged in a bruising Republican primary, but the party does not have a wealth of candidates after seeing the delegation decimated following the 2010 Republican wave and subsequent redistricting process.

The biggest name on the Democratic side is former Sen. Evan Bayh, whose 2010 retirement led to Coats’ return to the Senate. Bayh ended his Senate career with $9.9 million in cash on hand, which would give him a running start if he entered the race.

Former Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who lost to Coats in 2010, and former Rep. Baron Hill, also are mentioned as top-tier contenders. Indianapolis-based state Rep. Christina Hale and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz could also mount bids in the Democratic primary.

Bayh and Ellsworth did not return requests for comment in the hours after Coats made his announcement. Hill said on an Indiana television show on March 21 he is considering a bid for governor. Rep. André Carson is “not considering a Senate bid,” per his communications director Jessica Gail, and his fellow Democrat Peter J. Visclosky has not openly expressed interest.

On the Republican side, GOP operatives said candidates are likely facing a dilemma: Do they jump into a crowded primary in 2016? Or, do they wait until 2018 to challenge Donnelly — whose win Republicans still see as a fluke.

“We’re going to make a decision in the upcoming month, but we’re definitely thinking about it,” Stutzman — who lost to Coats in the 2010 primary — told CQ Roll Call Tuesday.

A source with knowledge of Walorski’s plans said she is “strongly considering jumping in,” while a spokesman for Holcomb — the longtime chairman of the Indiana Republican Party before joining Coats’ staff — said he is considering the race.

“Eric has taken a leave of absence from Senator Coats’ office as he considers a run for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2016,” Holcomb spokesman Pete Seat said in an email. “He’s grateful for the immediate outpouring of support from every corner of Indiana and will make a decision soon.”

Young and Brooks declined to comment on their plans, but did not rule out bids.

“Rep. Young is not prepared to make a decision at this time,” Communications Director Trevor Foughty said in an email. “He hopes all Hoosiers will take the next few weeks to focus on Sen. Coats and his long legacy of fighting for Hoosiers in Washington.”

“Today, I want to thank Senator Coats for his service to our country and the state of Indiana and celebrate the strong legacy he continues to build,” Brooks said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I know he will serve out the remainder of his term with the same focus and vision that has consistently yielded results for our state and nation.”

No one on the GOP list has a considerable war chest. Rokita ended 2014 with the biggest campaign fund of the bunch, reporting a little more than $1 million in the bank.

Hannah Hess contributed to this report.


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