Open Seat #3: Indiana Sen. Dan Coats

Several weeks ago, Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R) promised to announce his 2016 political plans before April 5, and on Tuesday kept his word. When Coats announced such an early time frame upon making a re-election decision, it encouraged political speculation that he would retire, thus opening the seat for next year’s election. Such prognostication proved accurate because Sen. Coats announced that he will retire for the second time.

Coats first came to office when he succeeded his former congressional boss, then-Rep. Dan Quayle (R-IN-4). When Quayle defeated Sen. Birch Bayh (D) in 1980, it was Dan Coats who won the Ft. Wayne-anchored congressional seat that Quayle vacated. Coats would serve four terms, and then once again succeed Quayle when he was appointed in 1989 to fill the unexpired Senate term when the latter was elected Vice President. Coats would then win a special Senate election in 1990, filling the final two years of the term to which he was originally appointed. He then claimed a full six-year term in the next regular election. Coats decided to retire from the Senate in 1998, rather than face then-Gov. Evan Bayh (D) in what was expected to be a very tough re-election fight.

Upon his retirement, Coats served as US Ambassador to Germany, and then returned to Washington DC to join a lobbying firm. He rather surprisingly was recruited to return to elective politics in 2010, and this time ironically succeeded Sen. Bayh who himself had decided to retire expressing his disdain for continuing service in the federal legislative body on his way out. Now, it is former Sen. Bayh who is not yet completely ruling out a return to elective politics.

The Coats’ move opens a third Senate seat for the 2016 election cycle. A fourth may soon be coming if Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) decides to forgo re-election in order to concentrate on a presidential campaign, as expected. Earlier in the year, Democratic senators Barbara Boxer (CA) and Barbara Mikulski (MD) announced their respective retirements.

Republicans should certainly be favored to hold the Coats’ seat, but there could be competition especially if former Sen. Bayh ultimately decides to run. The ex-incumbent is saying that such a race is not in his plans, “at this time”, but he still controls over $10 million in campaign funds from his earlier time in the Senate. Upon leaving politics, Bayh did not send the money to any Democratic political committee or charity. He merely kept his campaign committee open, which is where the money still lies.

Beyond Bayh, former Rep. Baron Hill’s (D-IN-9) name will be mentioned as a possible candidate. Hill had a stormy career in Congress, winning his first election in 1998, losing his seat in 2004, re-gaining it in 2006 only to lose again in 2010. He previously ran for the Senate in 1990, falling to Coats in the special Senate election.

But it’s in the Republican primary where the major action will likely occur. In 2010, when Sen. Coats returned from retirement, he fought back three GOP opponents, and won with an underwhelming 39 percent of the vote. His closest competitor was Marlin Stutzman, who is now the 3rd District congressman. Stutzman is a likely Senate candidate as we enter a new post-Coats era.

Other members of the congressional delegation will also weigh their chances for the statewide bid. Count on representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN-4), Susan Brooks (R-IN-5), Luke Messer (R-IN-6), and Todd Young (R-IN-9) to be mentioned as possible candidates at the very least. Other state Republicans will also likely consider entering the race.

In what promises to be a topsy-turvy election cycle, we can now add the Indiana Senate seat to the list of campaigns that must be followed. Though Indiana consistently votes Republican at the statewide level, Democrats can certainly be a factor in any election as Sen. Joe Donnelly’s (D) presence clearly suggests. We only have to go back to 2008 to find a Democrat winning at the presidential level, as then-Sen. Barack Obama topped Republican nominee John McCain in a surprise finish. Indiana was one of two states to return to the GOP column in 2012. North Carolina was the other.

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