INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth became the Democratic candidate
for U.S. Senate on Saturday, without going through a primary election — a
method that brings benefits as well as drawbacks.
Ellsworth, long the presumptive nominee, was chosen over Bob Kern of Marion
County by the Democratic Central Committee. After the secret ballots were
tallied and the vote announced, committee members and other Democrats at the
meeting in Indianapolis gave Ellsworth a standing ovation.
“I’m humbled and I’m very proud at this moment to have the chance to go and
represent you,” Ellsworth told the crowd.
The Republican candidate, former Sen. Dan Coats, welcomed Ellsworth to the
general election race.
“Hoosiers will hear two dramatically different views about the direction our
country should be heading, and about the future of Indiana,” Coats said.
Coats and Ellsworth are both seeking the seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh,
who said in February that he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Republicans have criticized Ellsworth as being anointed without turning to
voters, while Democrats say they had no choice. Bayh’s announcement came one
day before the deadline for candidates to submit the 4,500 signatures needed
to get on the primary ballot. No Democrats met that deadline, so the state
party’s central committee picked the nominee.
Avoiding a bruising primary may offer Ellsworth some advantages: he didn’t
have to spend money on commercials and there were no Democratic challengers
lining up to attack him.
But a primary is also a chance to experiment with campaign strategies,
determine what issues voters respond to and hone your message, said James
McCann, a Purdue University political science professor.
“A well-contested primary election where everybody kisses and makes up
afterward — that can actually be quite rejuvenating and therapeutic for a
party,” said McCann. “The lack of a substantive debate and contest here on
the Democratic side could be a missed opportunity.”
Coats took some political punches during the five-way GOP primary race.
Other Republicans portrayed Coats as a rich Washington insider who does not
support gun rights and who has lived away from Indiana for too long. Coats
said after the primary — in which he won 39 percent of the vote — that it
made him a stronger candidate heading into the general election.
“I’m a better person and I’m more sharply prepared and more ready to engage
in this fight because of all the effort that we have all put in,” Coats said
at an event with the four losing candidates.
Republicans kept up their disapproval of how Democrats chose their nominee.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the national committee to elect
Republicans, said in a statement Saturday that Ellsworth was “hand-picked by
his Democrat Party bosses.”
Indiana Republican Chairman Murray Clark called it “the greatest case of
voter disenfranchisement in the history of Indiana.”
“While Rep. Brad Ellsworth didn’t have to acknowledge his tenure in Congress
as he cruised to victory today, it’s my hope that he will finally explain
for Hoosiers why he has supported the massive spending and expansion of
government we have seen from Democrats in Washington,” Clark said in a
But there doesn’t seem to be much voter outrage over the way Ellsworth was
chosen, said Karen Kay Leonard, president of the Indiana League of Women
Voters, which doesn’t endorse specific parties or candidates.
“An open primary’s an important thing, but obviously Evan Bayh didn’t give
Democrats the chance to do some of the things they would have done
otherwise,” Leonard said.
McCann said anyone upset over how Ellsworth was selected is likely a
Republican already and isn’t on the fence about whom to support, and
predicted the issue would have a short shelf life.
Ellsworth won 28 out of 29 votes from the Democratic Central Committee, with
Indiana Stonewall Democrats abstaining as a way to spur Ellsworth and the
state party to do more to support gay rights.
The group said afterward that Ellsworth implemented a gay-friendly
employment policy as Vanderburgh County sheriff but voted against a hate
crime bill in Congress. It said its abstention was not a show of support for
Coats and it hoped to work with Ellsworth and the party to develop a better
relationship. But the group said that the party and Ellsworth needed to earn
“We will no longer go along for the sake of ’party unity’ with a party that
too frequently fails to unify with us,” the group said in a statement.