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Indiana Election 2011 | Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations

Republican Senate Candidates Hope Debate Will Boost Their Chances

One of the final chances for Republican candidates for Evan Bayh's Senate seat takes place Tuesday night. Marianne Holland has the story for IPBS.

republican senate primary candidates

Photo: courtesy photos

The five Republican candidates are former U.S. Senator Dan Coats, current State Senator Marlin Stutzman, former U.S. Representative John Hostettler, financial adviser Don Bates, Jr. and Tea Party activist and Indianapolis businessman Richard Behney.

There are just two weeks left before Indiana’s May 4th primary election. One of the biggest races in the state, which is also being watched nationally, is the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. The five men running in that race have appeared in numerous debates, with one of the final debates taking place Tuesday night. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland has this profile of the race so far.

When Senator Evan Bayh’s announcement to retire came in February, it was that single action that turned what would have been a quiet race, into one of the most closely followed in the country. When Hoosiers go to the polls May 4, if they pick a Republican ballot they’ll have five Republicans to choose from, three with considerable name recognition.

If voters choose a Democratic ballot, they’ll only see Bayh’s name in the race, since the all-but-official appointment of Rep. Brad Ellsworth as the Democratic nominee for the Senate won’t take place until after the primary election.

The five Republican candidates are former U.S. Senator Dan Coats, current State Senator Marlin Stutzman, former U.S. Representative John Hostettler, financial adviser Don Bates, Jr. and Tea Party activist and Indianapolis businessman Richard Behney.

The conventional wisdom puts Coats in the lead in this race, both for his statewide name recognition and his ability to raise large sums of money quickly. Ed Feigenbaum, editor of the Indiana Legislative Insight newsletter, says Coats’ connections to Washington, D.C. and his time as an ambassador to Germany set his apart from the pack when it comes to getting funds.

“When you look at the folks he’s running against, no one else brings that to the table in such a compressed period of time,” says Feigenbaum.

But it’s not clear Coats has won the support of the wild-card group in this race, and many other races across the country — Tea Party activists. Rosanna Price of Lebanon, one of the self-described Tea Party activists who appeared at the Tax Day Tea Party Rally at the Indiana Statehouse, says she doesn’t like Coats longtime presence in Washington, D.C. where he was both a lawmaker and a lobbyist.

Standing down the street and out of the sun, Carol Ann Woelful of Westfield says she became a Republican when she was living in California and voted for Ronald Reagan to become governor. She says while she wants new faces in the U.S. Senate, she doesn’t want someone with no political experience either.

“Right now I’m kind of vacillating between Stutzman and Hostettler,” says Woelful. “There are way too many things at stake for our leaders in Washington to get on-the-job training. But you also can’t be so entrenched that no matter what you do, you think you’re entitled to that chair.”

Feigenbaum says it’s no surprise those candidates are gaining appeal with the most conservative potential voters.

“They’re attacking Coats essentially from the right,” says Feigenbaum. “They’re trying to get them to vote in the Republican primary, and we don’t know to what extent they will, but they believe that Senator Coats has not been conservative enough.”

Whomever wins the primary election, they will immediately begin shifting their campaign against the Democratic candidate, likely to be current 8th District Congressman Brad Ellsworth.

Evansville Courier reporter Eric Bradner covers Ellsworth, who hails from southwest Indiana. He says Ellsworth is a tough competitor who can shift his campaign to reflect Hoosiers political mood.

“He can paint himself as a centrist, a moderate Democrat,” says Bradner. “But he can also get tough with Republicans when necessary, and he can also pitch Democrat accomplishments in a partisan light in a way that would paint Democrats positively.”

Indiana’s primary election takes place May 4. Polls close at 6 p.m. local time.