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.