Updated, 1 p.m. | Former Democratic Rep. Baron Hill told a crowd at a Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Columbus, Ind., he’ll run for the open Senate seat in the Hoosier State in 2016, becoming the first Democrat to enter the contest.
“I want to be your next senator,” Hill told the audience, according to the Republic , a local newspaper based in Columbus.
While Hill’s announcement makes him the first top-tier Democrat to enter the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Dan Coats, national Democrats have their eye on another potential candidate: former Sen. Evan Bayh.
Bayh’s 2010 retirement led to Coats’ return. He left the Senate, citing partisan gridlock as the reason for his exit, with more than $10 million in a campaign account. Though many Democrats don’t expect Bayh to run, operatives from both parties say he’d enter the contest as the front-runner.
Democratic state Rep. Christina Hale is also mulling a bid.
Hill ran for Senate once before in 1990. The race was a special election, after Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle left to assume the office of vice president alongside President George Bush. Hill lost that race to Coats, who had been appointed to fill Quayle’s term.
In 1998, Hill won a congressional contest in Indiana’s 9th District, which he represented for a decade — albeit nonconsecutive terms. He lost re-election in 2004, but won a comeback bid in 2006. In 2010, he was taken down in a GOP wave by now-Rep. Todd Young, who is among the Republicans considering a Senate bid himself.
While in Congress, Hill was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a more conservative group of Democrats that has seen its ranks diminish in recent years.
After leaving Congress, Hill became a lobbyist. In 2013 he launched his own lobby shop, with clients including the Cook Group Incorporated, a medical device giant headquartered in his old district. The 9th District includes Bloomington — home to the state’s flagship university — and goes all the way to the Kentucky border, which encompasses the suburbs of Louisville.
Hill had been mulling a challenge to Republican Gov. Mike Pence, with whom he served in Congress.
On the GOP side, two Republicans have announced bids for the seat. Rep. Marlin Stutzman entered the race over the weekend .
Coats’ former chief of staff, Eric Holcomb, entered the race soon after Coats’ retirement. GOP operatives in the state say Holcomb — who is not an elected official — has an uphill climb without a built-in voter base.
Indiana’s Senate race is rated a Republican Favored contest by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.
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