Today was primary day in the state of Indiana where an open Senate seat sent Republicans into a frenzy. Three major candidates vied for the party’s nomination: former Senator Dan Coats, former Rep. John Hostettler and State Senator Marlin Stutzman. The seat is currently held by Senator Evan Bayh, retiring after serving two terms. His retirement announcement came too late for Democrats to file for the May 4 primary. The state Democratic Party is expected to nominate Southwest Indiana Congressman Brad Ellsworth.
Dan Coats – 39%
Marlin A. Stutzman – 29%
John N. Hostettler – 23%
Don Bates, Jr. – 5%
Richard Behney – 4%
99% of precincts reporting
The vote was a test of the Tea Party appeal in Indiana. Marlin Stutzman started the race as a no-name candidate, but surged with support from the likes of far-right Republicans like Jim DeMint and Mike Huckabee. The fact that someone like Marlin Stutzman managed nearly 30% of the vote, with no name recognition across the state, has to be startling to establishment Republicans looking to pick up Bayh’s seat.
The establishment candidate in this race – Dan Coats – only managed 40 percent support. Will Tea Partiers rally around a Senator-turned-lobbyist? Will they support a candidate who was deemed a “carpetbagger” by his primary opponents for moving to Indiana from Virginia only to run for this seat? Most of them likely will, but uniting the Republican Party in Indiana will certainly be much more difficult than it will for the Democrats, who did not have a bruising primary. That said, Coats currently leads in statewide polling. Brad Ellsworth, meanwhile, has yet to run a statewide ad. I fully expect this to be a close race come November.
Meanwhile, across the border in Ohio, Democrats nominated Lt. Governor Lee Fisher to take on former Bush budget director Rob Portman. He defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Ohio is a mirror image of Indiana, where retiring Republican Senator George Voinovich is leaving an open seat for a possible Democratic pickup opportunity. The most recent polling shows Lee Fisher slightly ahead of Rob Portman, although this will likely be a close one to watch as well.