Friday, August 20, 2010

Indiana U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Indiana U.S. Senate

August 20, 2010
74 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Likely Republican

The Hoosier State is looking likely to be the home of one of many potential political comebacks in this election year of 2010.

Republican Dan Coats served ten years in the U.S. Senate beginning in 1989, but is widely assumed to have decided not to run for reelection in 1998, because he was not willing to face a strong challenge from the state's popular Democrat Governor Evan Bayh.

So, Coats stepped aside, Bayh easily won the seat, and easily won a fourth term in 2004. Once considered a future national party leader, and after having come close to a place on the Democrat ticket on a couple of occasions, Bayh, who had the image of a centrist, appeared likely to hold his Senate seat for as long as he might want it.

Over the past couple of years though, Bayh, who had somewhat awkwardly tried to move back to the center, after having staked some positions to the left leading up to a 2008 Presidential primary campaign which never left the station, saw some slippage in his poll numbers back home. After having cast a vote for President Obama's health care initiative, the two term incumbent suddenly looked very vulnerable to a GOP challenge. Surprisingly enough, Coats entered the fray, and polls showed that the new political mood in the state put him ahead of Bayh by several points. It was even a bigger surprise in February of this year, when Bayh announced he would not seek reelection. In a matter of great irony, Bayh had once scared off Coats, and now the tables were completely turned.

The announcement of the Senator came just one day before the deadline to file for the state's primary. This did not allow any major contenders time to get into the race, and in a relief to Democrats, one weak candidate was unable to produce enough signatures to get onto the ballot. This allowed party leaders to slate their own candidate for the general election and they quickly settled on Congressman Brad Ellsworth.

Ellsworth seemed to define the Democrats' Congressional comeback in 2006 when he captured a deep Republican district, and as a fairly conservative Democrat, he seemed to be a strong statewide contender. Coats in the meanwhile, faced a competitive primary, and despite potential vulnerabilities involving working as a lobbyist and seemingly putting down roots out of state, the former Senator, who went on to also serve as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, captured the nomination by about ten points, and his defeated opponents quickly pledged support.

It has to be a matter of great frustration for Democrats to see this seat, which just a year ago looked secure, on the brink of what could be an easy GOP gain. Current polls show Coats with a comfortable lead over Ellsworth. The Republican appears to have inched just past the 50 percent threshold, while his Democrat opponent is mired in the low '30s. Coats' post-Senate activities were supposed to make him a flawed candidate in this comeback bid, but there is little evidence to suggest that he has been harmed. Some of the professional political prognosticators still appear reluctant to declare Coats having a strong advantage, but that really does appear to be the case.

Ellsworth may have been an attractive politician in past years, and may have much better hair than his GOP opponent, but his vote for ObamaCare, and what appears to be a decided desire on behalf of the state's voters to support a Republican, have made this race a little less than competitive thus far. It could possibly tighten up after Labor Day, but barring a political miracle, Dan Coats will be returning to the job he held over a decade ago.

Coats campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 3 D, 11 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 43 D, 34 R