Coats retirement in Indiana shakes up 2016 battle for Senate

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Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsBipartisan gun measure survives test vote Senate panel advances nominee who Democrats blasted on Social Security Lobbying World MORE (R-Ind.) on Tuesday announced that he will not run for reelection in 2016.

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"Today I am announcing that I will not seek re-election to the United States Senate," Coats said in a statement. "This was not an easy decision. While I believe I am well-positioned to run a successful campaign for another six-year term, I have concluded that the time has come to pass this demanding job to the next generation of leaders."

Coats's decision to retire may set off a Republican scramble for the open seat. While the GOP would seem to have the early edge, it is now another state they must defend in a presidential year where they're almost entirely playing defense to protect their new Senate majority. 

Potential Republican candidates include Reps. Todd YoungTodd YoungDems pressure vulnerable Republicans on Trump meetings Young beats Stutzman in Indiana Senate GOP primary Ind. Senate candidate paid relative 0K for campaign work MORE and Susan BrooksSusan BrooksOvernight Healthcare: Republicans to get Thursday briefing on ObamaCare replacement plan House approves bill to launch opioids task force Overnight Healthcare: House takes first step on opioids bills MORE, both of whom have long been viewed as having statewide ambitions, as well as Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Reps. Todd Rokita, Jackie Walorski and Marlin Stutzman.

An aide to Rep. Luke Messer told The Hill he wouldn't seek the Senate seat. 

Coats's chief of staff, Eric Holcomb, is also taking a look at the race and is seen as a top candidate by by Indiana observers. He is close to kingmaker and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), has been traveling the state extensively building connections with the GOP grassroots.

“Eric has taken a leave of absence from Senator Coats’ office as he considers a run for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2016. He’s grateful for the immediate outpouring of support from every corner of Indiana and will make a decision soon,” Pete Seat, a spokesperson for Eric Holcomb, said in a statement.

The seat will be an uphill battle for Democrats. But as President Obama's narrow win in the state in 2008 and Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyPost Orlando, hawks make a power play Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers Senate narrowly rejects new FBI surveillance MORE's (D-Ind.) 2012 upset wins attest, Democrats can sometimes compete in the conservative state under the right circumstances.

Their best recruit would likely be former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who chose to retire rather than facing a tough race in 2010 and still has close to $10 million in the bank for a potential return to politics. Bayh has ruled out a run for governor but hasn't closed the door on a Senate run.

National Democrats immediately expressed optimism over the newly open seat, pointing back to their 2012 victory. 

“Indiana's Senate race is now one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, and Democrats are ready to put together a strong campaign just like we did in 2012. We're confident that we will find a great candidate who will put Indiana first and win this seat in 2016," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon TesterJon TesterBernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senators roll out bipartisan gun proposal Congress should stop government hacking and protect the Fourth Amendment MORE (Mont.) said in a statement. 

If Bayh doesn't run, former Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott (D) are potential candidates on the Democratic side.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger WickerRubio will run for reelection Lawmakers push first responder network on rural service Senate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect MORE (Miss.) promised the party will hold the seat next year, touting the state's "strong bench" of Republicans.

“Senator Dan Coats has been a dedicated advocate for Indiana families throughout his time in the United States Senate and I know his devotion to the state he loves so dearly won’t end when he’s out of office," he said in a statement. "Senate Republicans have been blessed to work with such a great colleague over the years and we will miss him dearly. We have a strong Republican bench in Indiana and I am confident we will have another capable Republican joining us in the Senate in 2016 to continue Dan’s great work.”

Coats, 71, has long been thought to be eyeing the exits.

The senator, who'd served in Congress from the 1980s until 2000 and made a comeback to win Bayh's seat in 2010, had been rumored to be tired of Senate gridlock. 

Coats's retirement will open up the chairmanship of the Joint Economic Committee as well as spots on the Senate Finance and Intelligence Committees.

— This post was updated at 1:45 p.m. Scott Wong also contributed. 

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