And the polling on the race backs their argument.
“I know in our Republican Senatorial Committee [NRSC] meetings, he is listed with not a half-dozen others who appear to be in very good shape,” Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told The Hill about Coats. “This is not one that’s creating great anxiety for the moment.”
Officials with the NRSC agreed. “We view this as one of the strongest pickup opportunities this cycle,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the committee.
Democrats, meanwhile, have hit Coats hard for his past work as a lobbyist.
“Come November, voters will see him for what he is: an inside lobbyist who cares more about Wall Street and his lobbying clients than Indiana,” said Deirdre Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
According to Lugar, the party’s confidence in its candidate comes from the popularity of Mitch Daniels, the state’s Republican governor and a possible 2012 presidential contender.
“Gov. Daniels is doing a splendid job, while polling indicates that President Obama has very negative ratings,” Lugar said. “Mr. Daniels has very positive ratings — in the 60s. He’s really the active statewide presence.”
A Daniels adviser said he will “absolutely” campaign for Coats and has already overlapped with him at several events where he praised the former senator, who held the seat until 1988, when he opted not to run for reelection.
Ellsworth wouldn’t shy away from the opportunity to campaign with Obama, according to his spokeswoman.
“If you have an opportunity to show off the great people and businesses of this state to the commander in chief, you take advantage of it. The president is always welcome here,” Elizabeth Farrar, an Ellsworth campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Republican strategists and media buyers estimated Ellsworth had spent between $260,000 to $570,000 of his $1.2 million in cash on hand on two TV ads that have aired in Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville since July 7.
In contrast, Coats has been conserving his money and has not been up on TV since the primary.
“While we feel good about where we’re at presently, we take nothing for granted and will continue running hard until Election Day,” a spokesman for Coats said in an e-mail.
Lugar said Coats’s lead comes from the fact that he got an early start.
“For half of the year, on the Democratic side, there was no campaign,” he said.
Bayh announced in February, five days after Coats got into the race, that he would retire at the end of his term. The timing of his departure gave would-be Democratic candidates less than 24 hours to get on the ballot; that subsequently allowed the state Democratic Party’s central committee to choose Ellsworth as its nominee in May.
“So Coats, if he was … rusty … getting into it, had the full scope of the winter and the spring to get reacquainted, if that was that required,” Lugar said. “This has meant that all of the early polling has given him double-digit leads.”
Ellsworth has yet to receive any direct financial assistance from the DSCC, although it has kept up a drumbeat about Coats’s past work as a lobbyist and sought to characterize his policy positions as out-of-touch for reporters covering the race.
Ellsworth will likely have to register some improvement in the campaign for the party leadership to make an investment in his race, although his spokeswoman said he already has the party’s support.
“Sen. Bayh has already provided a million-dollar vote of confidence in Brad with his contribution to the Indiana Democratic Party, and we are confident we will have the resources necessary to ensure voters in Indiana have a very clear picture of the two candidates,” Farrar said. “In a race between a former sheriff and independent-minded congressman and a longtime Washington lobbyist, I’ll put my money on the sheriff any day.”
Bayh gave a million dollars to the Indiana Democratic Party to be spent on the Senate race.
A Democratic strategist noted that while the DSCC hasn’t yet invested any money in Ellsworth, the NRSC hasn’t made any expenditures of behalf of Coats — even during his contested primary, when he was its recruited candidate. Coats won the primary with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Lugar admitted that Coats has “been very active on the Washington scene for a long time” but said it would be difficult for Ellsworth to make that knock stick.
“Ellsworth at least has tried to get some traction by charging ‘lobbyist, Washington type,’ all this sort of thing,” he said. “The difficulty is that people, not with a snicker but just with a smile, say, ‘It’s awfully hard if you’re a congressman sitting there now.’ ”