Coats Makes First Step Back to Senate

 To no one’s surprise, former Sen. Dan Coats (R.-Ind.) made the first big stride toward reclaiming his old Senate seat last night. With near-final returns in, the 66-year-old Coats won a plurality of the vote in a three-candidate Republican primary for the seat Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh is relinquishing after 12 years.

In contrast to the tradition that former office-holders have an uphill struggle to reclaim their former offices, Coats (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) now appears better-than-even money to flip the Hoosier State’s Senate seat from Democrat to Republican.  The latest Rasmussen Poll shows Coats defeating Democratic nominee and two-term Rep. Brad Ellsworth by a margin of 54% to 33% statewide. 

Initially considered one of his party’s most attractive contenders, Ellsworth (lifetime ACU rating:  28%) goes into the fall contest with two major scars.  Like Michigan’s Bart Stupak, Ellsworth had been considered a pro-life Democrat and said repeatedly he would not vote for a healthcare bill without a ban on tax dollars for abortion.  And like Stupak, he voted for the Obama-backed bill that lacked such a ban in March.  Before the vote, Mike Fischer of Indiana Right to Life told reporters that if Ellsworth broke his promise, “we will make sure everyone in Indiana knows that.”

In addition, the way that Ellsworth became the Senate nominee has been a source of controversy.  When Bayh made his stunning retirement announcement on the eve of the filing deadline, Hoosier Democrats were left without a candidate.

“So the Democratic nominee was not nominated by the people but anointed by 32 party bosses [the party’s state executive committee, which filled the vacancy since no one had time to file for a primary],” Coats told three HUMAN EVENTS reporters weeks before the primary.  He vowed that the timing of Bayh’s exit and Ellsworth’s “insider” nomination would be an issue in the fall.

The comfortable primary win by Coats should go a long way toward answering skeptics who said that the former senator (1989 until his retirement in 1998).and House member (1981-89) was “Mr. Yesterday.”  In winning Tuesday, Coats defeated state Sen. Marlin Stutzman and former Rep. (1994-06) John Hostettler.  The 34-year-old Stutzman’s second-place showing was unexpected, as he entered the race a near-unknown.  Stutzman styled himself a fresh conservative face more in tune with younger voters and had the backing of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and his political action committee.  Hostettler (lifetime ACU rating: 89%), who had opposed the Bush Administration on Iraq and the prescription drug package of 2003, slammed Coats for his pro-Iraq stance and his service under President Bush (he was ambassador to Germany).

Despite an overall conservative voting record, Coats does have some “apostacies” on the right.  He voted for the Brady Bill backed by gun control advocates, although he has high ratings from gun owners groups, and he voted for the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the Supreme Court (which he now says he regrets).  In the House, he broke with the Reagan Administration and opposed the MX missile.

But fellow Hoosier Republicans appear to have accepted Dan Coats again, believing his record in office was conservative enough to transcend those sins.  For now, he looms large as one of his party’s likeliest pickups in the Senate races this fall.

Hot Hoosier House Races

In their national plan to recapture the House this fall, Republicans appear to have at least three opportunities for pickups of Democratic seats in Indiana: the 2nd District (which includes economically-strapped Elkhart), where two-term Rep. Democratic Joe Donnelly faces a strong foe in State Rep. Jackie Walsorski; the 8th (Evansville), which Brad Ellsworth is leaving to run for the Senate, and where heart surgeon Larry Buchson is favored over Democrat Trent Van Haaften (chosen by party leaders to replace Ellsworth) ; and the 9th, in which former Marine and deputy county prosecutor Todd Yodd Young upset former Rep. Mike Sodrel to face Democratic Rep. Baron Hill.  In what is often described as Indiana’s “blood feud,” Sodrel lost to Hill in ’02, unseated him in ’04, and lost two close comeback bids in ’06 and ’08.

Two incumbent Republicans fought back spirited primary challenges.  In the 3rd District, eight-termer Mark Edward Souder managed 40% of the vote against three opponents.  In the 5th (Indianapolis), 28-year Rep. Dan Burton was held to 30% of the vote, but it was enough to edge out former state Rep. and state GOP Executive Director Luke Messer by 2,300 votes.  Former Marion County Coroner John McGoff came in third and two other candidates split up what was clearly an anti-incumbent vote.

In both races, the contests had next-to-nothing to do with ideology.  Both Souder (lifetime ACU rating: 89%) and Burton (lifetime ACU rating: 97%) are seasoned conservatives.  Their opponents had campaigns fueled by the Tea Party movement and made the case that the incumbents had been in office too long and were out of touch with their constituents.

In the lone open House district in Indiana, Secretary of State Todd Rokita rode public support for his requirement of a photo I.D, to victory over 12 opponents.  Rokita won the Republican nomination in the 4th District, where fellow GOPer Steve Buyer is stepping down after 18 years.  Rokita, whose photo ID bill was upheld by the Supreme Court, defeated two opponents with more than half the vote.  In a district that last sent a Democrat to Washington in 1990, Rokita appears a sure winner in November over 2008 Democratic nominee David Sanders.

His victory caused particular joy in this office, where Rokita was a HUMAN EVENTS intern in 1992.

Return of the Jedi:  Portman, Kasich Favored in Ohio

There were no surprises in the major primaries in Ohio.  Two nationally known former congressmen who are strong advocates of major budget cuts, won the Republican nominations for governor and senator.  Former ten-term Rep. and House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich roared back into politics by winning the nomination to oppose Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

With GOP Sen. George Voinovich retiring after 12 years, GOPers settled on former Rep. and Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman as their Senate standard bearer.  In contrast, Democrats went through a grueling primary, with state Atty. Gen. Lee Fisher defeating Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner by a margin of 3-to-2.

At a point when more than 329,000 jobs have left the Buckeye State in the last two years and unemployment is at 10.1%, Kasich has called for a bold plan of abolishing the state estate tax (now 7% on estates of $350,000 and above), phasing out the state income tax, and overhauling the entire system of regulation.  A just-completed Rasmussen Poll showed Kasich leading Strickland by a margin of 46% to 45% statewide. The same survey showed Portman defeating Fisher by 43% to 38%.

As tight as the races seem, it is significant that the two leading GOP contenders are both candidates who have been out of office for a number of years and both are running ahead of seasoned politicians.  This could well be considered evidence that the Buckeye State and its 20 electoral votes might be moving back to the Republican column in 2012.

Lots of House Opportunities for GOP in House Races (and Traficant Too?!!!)

In an address to the Pennsylvania Leadership Council April 16, Fox commentator Dick Morris predicted Republicans would gain seven of the 39 seats they need to recapture control of the House from Pennsylvania.  A careful look at the House races in Indiana after last night’s primary (see above story) portends a possible net gain of three seats for the GOP.

And in Ohio, five Democratic incumbents are all major targets.  In the Cincinnati-based 1st and 15th Districts, freshman Reps. Steve Driehaus and Mary Jo Kilroy will be in rematches with the Republicans they respectively edged out in ’08: former Rep. (1994-2008) and onetime Clinton impeachment manager Steve Chabot and former state legislator Steve Stivers (whose “squeaker” with Kilroy was one of the last House races in the nation to be decided in ’08).

Three other Democrats facing determined opposition are Reps. Charlie Wilson (up against decorated U.S. Air Force veteran Bill Johnson), John Boccieri (facing former Wadsworth Mayor Jim Renacci), and Zach Space (whose GOP opponent is a State Sen. Robert Gibbs-“the right Robert Gibbs,” as supporters call him to distinguish the candidate from the White House press secretary of the same name).

And-hold onto your hats-in the 17th District (Youngstown), Jim Traficant is back.  Expelled from Congress after his conviction on several charges of corruption and arriving home last year to a hero’s welcome after serving a seven-year prison term, the 68-year-old former congressman with the “bouffant” hairdo and signature “Beam me up!” line in House speeches filed as an independent for Congress yesterday.  Traficant, whose causes have ranged from a years-long war with the IRS to his attempts to save alleged Nazi war criminal John Demanjuk from deportation, said he has been ready for a political comeback since leaving prison.

North Carolina:  Burr in the Saddle

After months of polls showing him on political thin ice, Republican Sen. Richard Burr had something to smile about on Tuesday.   Since neither of the two leading Democrats vying for nomination to oppose the freshman conservative got 40% of the vote, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former state legislator Cal Cunningham were forced into a run-off next month.

Whether he faces Marshall or Cunningham, Burr will be able to present a striking contrast.  Both the Democrats support the Obama-backed healthcare bill, federal stimulus packages, and the labor-backed card-check proposal.

In the most closely-watched Republican House primary in North Carolina, businessman and political newcomer Tim D’Annunzio will face former TV newscaster Harold Johnson in a runoff. With neither getting the 40% required to secure nomination, the two will continue their battle for nomination in the 8th District against freshman Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell.

D’Annunzio, who used $1 million of his own money to finance a campaign, ran on a platform that called for abolishing the Department of the Treasury and the Departments of Education and Energy.

Kissell, who broke with Democratic leaders in the House by opposing cap and trade and health care legislation, faced a primary from the left. He won by a margin of 2-to-1.