Republicans are livid about the timing of Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) retirement announcement.
They have at least four candidates in the upcoming primary while the Indiana Democratic Party will get to decide its nominee.
Indiana required nominating petitions to be filed by noon Tuesday. Bayh announced Monday he would not seek reelection, giving would-be candidates less than 24 hours to get on the ballot.
Because no Democrat was able to gather the 4,500 nominating signatures — 500 from each congressional district — the party’s executive committee will meet in the next six weeks to decide on a nominee.
Cafe owner Tamyra d'Ippolito (D), who was preparing to challenge Bayh in the primary, scrambled Tuesday to submit the required signatures, but she failed to meet the benchmark, according to officials.
On the Republican side, Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) and Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita toyed with the idea of running but passed on the race while Bayh was the expected nominee.
Former Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsTrump narrows secretary of State field to four finalists 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map 10 Senate seats that could flip in 2018 MORE (R-Ind.), who made Tuesday’s deadline, is considered the GOP favorite, but he has become an early Democratic target and faced criticism for his lobbying-client list.
Republicans have called on Bayh to ask for an extension of the filing deadline.
“The reality and ramifications of this timing cannot, and should not, be ignored,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said in a statement.
“Assuming there is no qualified candidate that files the appropriate documentation before the deadline, Sen. Bayh should call on the state Democratic Party to ask an Indiana court to extend the candidate filing deadline — both for this Senate candidacy and for any House candidacy that is left open by a Democrat House member who runs for the Senate nomination,” Cornyn said. “Doing so would remove any appearance of unfair gamesmanship by the Democrats while affirming their belief that voters, and not party bosses, should be the final arbiters of elections.”
Bayh’s office referred all comments about a possible filing extension to the Indiana Democratic Party, which did not comment by deadline.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) insisted Bayh wasn’t trying to “tilt” the nomination process.
“I take Evan at his word that he was wrestling with this decision for a while,” he said. “These are very tough decisions to make.”
Democratic strategists said the lack of a primary, while Republicans have a five-way battle raging, could be a boon.
“We won’t have a primary. They’ve got a primary, and they’ve got Republicans already attacking Coats and Coats having to fire back," said Robin Winston, a Democratic strategist and former state party chairman.
Observers agreed that the Republicans don’t have a white knight.
“Coats has a big name recognition problem,” said John Roos, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “The fact that he ran statewide so long ago, he’s going to have to refresh that memory. He’s going to have to spend a ton of money.”
John Livengood, former chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said the Democratic nominee will have ample time to build campaign infrastructure. “I don’t think that whoever’s picked will end up starting out at a disadvantage,” he said.
Some early buzz for Bayh's replacement centers around state Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson (D) and Reps. Baron Hill (D) and Brad Ellsworth (D).
Ellsworth, who got the news Monday while touring his district, is open to the idea, aides said. He’s expected to hold a “family discussion” in the next few days to decide how to proceed. “The next step will be taking a few days to talk to my wife and to folks in Indiana about where I can best serve our state,” he said in a statement Monday.
Ellsworth doesn’t have a serious opponent for his House seat, but Hill could once again face ex-Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), which may influence his decision to run.
Some Democrats have grumbled that Bayh’s late decision could give GOPers a leg up in the race, but the senator dismissed that criticism Tuesday.
"Those critics must not know my state very well,” Bayh said on the CBS “Early Show.” “Hoosiers are very independent. There are five Republicans running; they're going to have a vigorous primary. I don't know who their nominee will be. And I am highly confident that we will have a candidate for the United States Senate who will be very competitive and have an excellent chance of winning this seat in November."
-- This article was updated at 5:06 p.m.