Kokomo — National backing ultimately did Dan Coats no harm in Indiana’s GOP U.S. Senate primary, with the former senator rallying to best four opponents.
In Indiana this fall, Coats — who was recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee — will face Democrat Brad Ellsworth, whose nomination is assured. The candidates are seeking the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.
Coats, 66, retired from the Senate in 1998, has worked as a lobbyist and was U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush.
State Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite who received a late funding boost from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and the Senate Conservative Fund, came in second with 30 percent of the statewide vote. Former Rep. John Hostettler was third with 22 percent of the vote.
It was a case of what might have been for Stutzman, who racked up a plethora of key party endorsements before Coats jumped into the race. Coats entered the race just after Bayh dropped out and instantly changed the political landscape.
“When Dan Coats announced he was in that race, it just sucked the life out of it — people stopped talking about it. None of the other candidates could get any traction,” Howard County Republican Party chairman Craig Dunn said Tuesday.
“I feel pretty confident we’ll unite behind Coats,” Dunn added.
Howard County Treasurer Martha Lake said she thought Coats’ experience made the difference in the race.
“I think that’s what we need right now, more than anything, is people who have an understanding of government and government finance,” Lake said.
Coats wasted no time in going directly after Ellsworth, taking shots in his acceptance speech.
“We absolutely cannot afford to elect someone to the United States Senate who will enable this radical move to the left,” Coats said.
“Folks, anyone who has voted to reappoint Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House cannot be trusted to protect Indiana’s interests.”
DeMint issued a statement just after Coats accepted the nomination, saying Stutzman had the “odds stacked against him.”
“This was his first statewide race, and he was opposed by the Washington establishment. Yet he exceeded all expectations with an unwavering commitment to conservative principles,” DeMint said.
Coats won a special election in 1990 to serve the remainder of Dan Quayle’s term after Quayle became vice president in 1989. Coats’ name was last on an Indiana ballot in 1992, when he made a successful bid for a full Senate term.
But he decided not to run for re-election in 1998, when Bayh made his first run for the seat.
Democrats also wasted no time Tuesday in attacking Coats.
“National Republicans got who they wanted, and who they got is an establishment Republican steeped in the culture of Washington. A super-lobbyist beholden to special interests for his fortune,” Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Hari Sevugan said in a statement. “Dan Coats may represent national Republicans to a tee, but he doesn’t represent the values of Hoosiers anymore.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.