Dan Coats, who left the U.S. Senate 12 years ago and more recently worked as a Washington lobbyist, won the Republican nomination in Indiana for the seat being vacated by his successor, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh.
Coats, 66, had almost 40 percent of the vote with 98 percent of the precincts counted in yesterday’s race against four other Republicans, according to the Associated Press.
The likely Democratic nominee is Brad Ellsworth, 51, who represents a U.S. House district in Indiana that has been one of the nation’s most politically competitive. State Democratic leaders will designate their party’s nominee later this month, and have favored Ellsworth, a former county sheriff.
Republican Representative Dan Burton -- Indiana’s longest serving House member -- narrowly won his party’s nomination for a 15th term, AP said. He received 29.7 percent of the vote, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, edging former state Representative Luke Messer with 27.6 percent.
Primaries yesterday in Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio will be followed by seven more contests later in May that will collectively begin to define November’s ballots. States with Senate primaries on May 18 include Arkansas and Pennsylvania, where Democratic incumbents Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter face challenges.
The Senate races will help determine whether Democrats maintain their majority in that chamber and, if so, by what margin. The party now controls a 59-41 voting majority.
Coats told supporters in Indianapolis that Ellsworth was an enabler to free-spending policies.
“We absolutely cannot afford to elect someone to the United States Senate who will enable this radical move to the left,” Coats said. The candidates “are going to offer Hoosiers two very different views of the direction our country should be taking,” Coats said, promising to stand for “limited government, lower taxes, less spending.”
Ellsworth, a second-term representative, said in a statement that he’s running for Senate “because we need folks who will listen and work together to get things done no matter what party you’re from.” The Democrat said he will work for “everyday Hoosiers and their priorities and not the big special interest lobbyists in Washington.”
Coats was elected to the U.S. House in 1980 and was appointed to the Senate after Indiana Republican Dan Quayle was elected vice president in 1988. Coats won a full Senate term in 1992 and declined to seek re-election in 1998.
After announcing his plans to run in February, Coats came under assault from Republicans and Democrats for working for a lobbying firm that has represented Bank of America Corp., Google Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and other clients.
Coats released a financial-disclosure report last week that showed $603,609 in salary during 2009 and the first two months of 2010 from the Washington office of King & Spalding LLP.
Democrats have painted him as a carpetbagger because he has lived in Virginia since 2005, after serving four years as ambassador to Germany for then-President George W. Bush.
Candidates opposing Coats in the Republican primary included John Hostettler, a former member of the U.S. House, and state Senator Marlin Stutzman, who had the backing of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Stutzman had 29 percent of the vote with 98 percent of the precincts counted and Hostettler had 23 percent.
North Carolina Runoff
In North Carolina, Democrats were headed toward a runoff to see who will take on first-term Republican Senator Richard Burr.
Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall led with 36 percent of the vote with all precincts counted, AP said. A candidate must win at least 40 percent of the vote to avoid a two-person runoff on June 22. Former state Senator Cal Cunningham was second with 27 percent of the vote.
In Ohio, where Republican Senator George Voinovich is retiring, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher won the Democratic primary, AP said. Fisher had almost 55 percent of vote with 89 percent of precincts counted, leading Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, with about 45 percent.
Fisher will take on former Republican U.S. Representative Rob Portman, who also was a trade representative under George W. Bush.
The races in Indiana and North Carolina are rated as leaning toward or likely Republican wins in November by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington, while the contest in Ohio is rated as a toss-up.
Indiana Democrats said they are eager to compete against Coats in November’s general election.
“We have a sheriff who has made his home his entire life in Indiana, versus a Washington, D.C., insider-lobbyist,” said Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party. “I like that matchup a lot.”