Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has won the Republican primary for his old seat, holding off a late charge from a state senator with conservative backing.
Coats led state Sen. Marlin Stutzman 40-30 with 65 percent of precincts reporting. The race has been called for Coats.
While the lead was nearly double digits, the victory was not resounding for Coats. He struggled to raise as much money as other big-name Senate candidates and has been slow to adjust to the new political environment 12 years after he was last on the ballot.
Stutzman got late backing – both an endorsement and fundraising – from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and also an endorsement from former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) said Coats is the right candidate for them.
"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," NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.
But Democrats smell blood, and they are hopeful that Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) has the right profile to make the race a competitive one. Early polling has shown the GOP with an early edge, but Ellsworth has won in a conservative district before.
"In a few days, Indiana Democrats will nominate former sheriff Brad Ellsworth as their candidate and the contrasts could not be any clearer," DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said. "While Washington lobbyist Dan Coats will do even more to protect big banks and corporate interests, sheriff Brad Ellsworth is focused on holding Wall Street accountable, and the needs of the middle-class.”
Even if Democrats can make the race competitive though, they are still playing defense. The retirement of Coats’s successor, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), threw his seat into jeopardy and has given Republicans a key takeover opportunity.
Ellsworth does not face a primary because Bayh retired too late in the filing period. Instead, state Democratic leaders are expected to nominate him in the coming days.
In the GOP primary, former Rep. John Hostettler’s (R-Ind.) meagerly funded campaign finished third, with 21 percent of the vote. He was endorsed by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).