Coats Wins in Indiana, Will Face Ellsworth

Posted May 4, 2010 at 8:08pm

Updated: 11:21 p.m.

Former Sen. Dan Coats won a plurality of the vote Tuesday in Indiana’s GOP Senate primary — the first test of his comeback campaign for the seat he relinquished a dozen years ago.

Coats topped the five-candidate field with 40 percent of the vote. State Sen. Marlin Stutzman had 29 percent and former Rep. John Hostettler took 23 percent. Two minor candidates split the remainder of the Republican vote.

Coats will now face Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D), who will become his party’s nominee on May 15. Because Sen. Evan Bayh (D) announced his retirement on the eve of the filing deadline, Ellsworth couldn’t run in the primary and will instead be nominated by a committee of party officials.

Ellsworth released a video statement Tuesday night in which he says, “Over the next six months, I’ll keep listening and give Indiana a clear choice in this election. I’ll keep working for everyday Hoosiers and their priorities, and not the big special interest lobbyists in Washington.”

A competitive race is expected in a state that voted narrowly for President Barack Obama in 2008 but usually has a Republican lean. Republicans have zeroed in on Ellsworth’s vote in March for a new health care law and suggested it is one of the reasons he trails Coats in early general election surveys.

“Dan Coats’ nomination makes Indiana one of the strongest pick-up opportunities for Republicans this November and gives Hoosiers a chance to elect a real leader, who shares their values and will fight for their best interests each and every day in the U.S. Senate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said in a statement.

Democrats say that Ellsworth, a popular two-term Congressman and former county sheriff, has an excellent profile to run statewide, and they’re likely to point to Coats’ underwhelming vote total as evidence that he’ll have problems holding the conservative voters who make up the GOP’s base.

As indicated by his underwhelming vote total, Coats didn’t have a smooth ride to the Republican nomination.

Democratic officials highlighted his post-Senate career as a lobbyist and a 2008 video of Coats telling a gathering of North Carolina Republicans that he and his wife planned to retire there. Coats also missed a deadline to file a personal financial disclosure report that eventually showed he made a large income as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington.

Stutzman and Hostettler pointed to Coats’ votes two decades ago for some gun restrictions and raised the specter that Ellsworth would run against Coats with the backing of the National Rifle Association.

But those attacks weren’t enough to topple Coats in a primary against lesser-known and lightly funded opponents.

Stutzman ran with the backing of Sen. Jim DeMint’s (S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund, which helped Stutzman raise more than $200,000 in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Hostettler didn’t raise much money and couldn’t duplicate on a statewide basis the volunteer-powered success he enjoyed as a seven-term Congressman from the southwestern 8th district.

Elsewhere in Indiana primary results Tuesday night, Rep. Dan Burton eked out a narrow win against a crowded field of Republican challengers. The longtime Congressman won nomination with 30 percent of the vote in the Indianapolis-area 5th district, edging former state Rep. Luke Messer, who received 28 percent.
Other noteworthy results on Tuesday included:

• In the open-seat race in the 8th district, heart surgeon Larry Bucshon eked out a victory in the Republican primary. With nearly all votes counted, Bucshon edged Kristi Risk, a favorite of many tea party activists, 32 percent to 29 percent in an eight-candidate race.

Bucshon, the preferred candidate of the National Republican Congressional Committee, will face state Rep. Trent Van Haaften in November in the race to succeed Ellsworth.

• In the 9th district, former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) came up short in his attempt to face off against Rep. Baron Hill (D) for the fifth consecutive time this fall.

Republicans instead nominated Todd Young, a lawyer, Marine Corps veteran and first-time candidate who narrowly won the four-candidate GOP field Tuesday with 34 percent of the vote.

Sodrel finished a close but disappointing third, with 31 percent of the vote, trailing both Young and Travis Hankins, a real estate investor who had 32 percent of the vote. Young began campaigning for the seat more than a year ago and had success raising campaign funds.

• Rep. Mark Souder (R) beat two primary challengers in his toughest nomination contest to date. In the Fort Wayne-based 3rd district, Souder won with 48 percent and Souder’s closest opponent, car dealer Bob Thomas, took 34 percent of the vote after spending freely from his own pocket to fund ads that portrayed the Congressman as a career politician.

• In the heavily Republican 4th district, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R) topped a 13-candidate primary field and is all but guaranteed to win in November and succeed retiring Rep. Steve Buyer (R). Rokita won 42 percent of the vote in a race in which his most threatening challenger, state Sen. Brandt Hershman, had 17 percent.