WASHINGTON (AP) — In a recruiting coup, former Republican Sen. Dan Coats
said Wednesday he’s preparing to challenge Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of
Indiana in November, a potential matchup already generating tough talk.
The GOP has sought new opportunities to pick up seats and cut into the
Democratic majority on Capitol Hill after Republican Scott Brown’s recent
upset in a special Senate election in Massachusetts.
Coats, who retains strong name recognition even though he’s not an Indiana
resident now, would bring a high profile to the race, where Republicans
believe the two-term incumbent may be vulnerable. Coats is a conservative
Republican, while Bayh is a moderate Democrat who toyed with running for
president in 2008. Some polls suggest Bayh could be vulnerable.
Coats’ first message was pounding away on “the failure by our leaders in
Washington to listen to those they were elected to represent,” particularly
on what he considers out-of-control spending.
He said that while Indiana families have “sacrificed to make ends meet
during these tough economic times, our elected officials in Washington
continue to run up massive deficits, recklessly borrowing and spending
record amounts of taxpayer money.”
But Coats can hardly position himself as a Washington outsider. He was a
senator for 10 years before deciding in 1998 against seeking re-election,
avoiding a race with then-Gov. Bayh. Since then, he has served as ambassador
to Germany under former President George W. Bush and worked as a lobbyist in
Washington for unpopular financial companies, including Credit Suisse and
Bank of America. Coats was a lobbyist for the latter when it took $25
billion in bailout funds. Bank of America has since paid the money back.
Sensing a difficult race if Coats is the nominee, Democrats quickly made it
clear they would spotlight Coats’ lobbying work
“Coats is a Washington, D.C., insider who lined his own pockets as taxpayers
spent $700 billion bailing out Wall Street banks,” said Eric Schultz a
spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Hoosiers won’t
ignore Dan Coats’ decade as a lobbyist working the system to gain special
favors for the banking industry at the time of financial collapse and at the
expense of working Americans.”
At least four other Republicans have said they will seek the nomination in
the May 4 primary, and Coats is in a race to secure the necessary signatures
in the next few weeks to qualify for the ballot. Coats said in a statement
he has authorized supporters in Indiana to try to gather signatures from
voters by the Feb. 16 deadline.
Though Coats is now a resident of Virginia, the Constitution merely requires
that he be an “inhabitant” of Indiana when elected.
Republicans intend to make an issue of Bayh’s support of President Barack
Obama’s agenda, including health care legislation and the economic stimulus.
When Coats retired in 1998, he said he was tired of constantly raising money
to run for office. Bayh went on to defeat the mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., and
won re-election comfortably in 2004, even as President George W. Bush
captured a second term.