U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (top, right) announced he would not seek reelection in 2016, setting off a scamble that includes (top from left) U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, U.S. Reps. Todd Young, Jackie Walorski, Todd Rokita, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, former Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb, and potentially Democrats Evan Bayh, Baron Hill and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. (HPI Photos)
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (top, right) announced he would not seek reelection in 2016, setting off a scamble that includes (top from left) U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, U.S. Reps. Todd Young, Jackie Walorski, Todd Rokita, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, former Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb, and potentially Democrats Evan Bayh, Baron Hill and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. (HPI Photos)

By BRIAN A. HOWEY
and MARK SCHOEFF JR.


INDIANAPOLIS - A two-party U.S. Senate free-for-all was set in motion Tuesday morning after Republican incumbent Dan Coats confirmed what had been speculated on for weeks: That he would not seek a third term. The Coats decision has the potential of thrusting another safe Republican Indiana Senate seat into the unpredictable tenor of the emerging 2016 campaign cycle, with Democrats eying a potential pickup.

In the wake of Coats decision to “turn over the responsibility to the next generation,” former Indiana Republican chairman and Coats aide Eric Holcomb has launched a website and is taking a leave of absence, U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman, Todd Young, Todd Rokita and Jackie Walorski are actively weighing runs, and additional speculation centers on House Speaker Brian Bosma who had gauged a potential Senate race in 2012, and Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who like Rokita has won statewide office twice. State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, is forming an exploratory committee.

Democrats said to be taking a look at the race include former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh who sits on a $9.9 million war chest and had told Politico Pro on Monday that he was not considering a run “at this time,” and former congressman Baron Hill, who had been preparing a gubernatorial bid. Prior to the Coats announcement, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. had told Howey Politics Indiana he would run if he prevails in his Democratic mayoral primary in May and no other Democrat steps up.

Emphatically out of the running are U.S. Reps. Luke Messer, the fifth ranking Republican in House leadership, and U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon. Informed and reliable sources tell Howey Politics Indiana that rising star U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks is likely to fall into this camp, though her only public statement was one lauding Coats’ lengthy tenure of public service. There was even speculation that Gov. Mike Pence might take a look at the Senate race if he decides against a presidential race, with that decision coming in May. Pence, however, has repeatedly said that he views the work of governors in state capitals as the future of innovation in the Republican Party.

With Coats wavering on a reelection bid over the past month, Holcomb had been reaching out to party leaders and had hosted former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers at a national security briefing at the Columbia Club. The Holcomb camp put out a statement saying, “Eric has taken a leave of absence from Senator Coats’ office as he considers a run for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2016. He’s grateful for the immediate outpouring of support from every corner of Indiana and will make a decision soon.”

Stutzman, who had finished second to Coats in the 2010 Republican Senate primary, told HPI Tuesday afternoon, “We really enjoyed the 2010 primary race. We are taking a strong look at it. I've had a lot of folks reach out to us already, encouraging us to run. We'll make a decision within the upcoming months." Rokita, who informed and reliable sources said was weighing a challenge to U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2018, had his office put out a statement that read, “As Vice Chair of the Budget Committee, he is completely focused on ensuring the successful passage of the Congress’ most important annual bill. He and Kathy will be weighing how best to serve Indiana in the future.” Young took a similar tack, with spokesman Trevor Foughty telling HPI he wanted to take a few weeks to gauge a Senate bid or seek reelection and a return to the influential House Ways & Means Committee. Young, like Brooks and Messer, would risk plum House committee assignments and safe Republican House seats to wage a Senate bid on a potentially crowded primary.

Bayh is the most compelling wild card here. He spurned a reelection bid in 2010 after his vote for Obamacare and the rise of the Tea Party which left him vulnerable. He rejected a run for governor last year, and when HPI asked him about a potential return to the Senate, Bayh said, “I’ll be 59 in December and I don’t know how many elections there are between now and the average life expectancy for a male, but there are probably dozens of more elections. I have no plans to run for anything. Period. End of paragraph. And I hope that by making that statement I can rule out a lot of the speculation.”

Bayh has made similar comments to National Public Radio’s Ken Rudin and the Huffington Post over the past several months. He told Rudin in February, “I don’t think you close any door” but said running for office might be “a chapter behind me.” The only sliver of hope for Indiana Democrats came when Bayh told HPI, that “what is actively on my mind is helping Hillary Clinton to run for president.” That quote has ignited the specter of Hillary Clinton asking Bayh to return to the Senate. In her 2008 primary against Barack Obama, Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton made almost 50 campaign stops in Indiana, won the primary, and could conceivably be in a position to pick up Indiana’s 11 Electoral College votes in 2016, as Obama did in 2008. A Bayh Senate candidacy could potentially put her over the top. Bayh has routinely won races in the 60th percentile.

Coats started this sequence when he told HPI Tuesday morning, “It has nothing to do with a terribly dysfunctional Senate. It is related to the fact that I had to face the reality of age. There is a seven in front of the next digit. After a campaign and six more years in the Senate, I would be four months shy of 80 years old. There is almost a responsibility to turn it over the responsibility to the next generation. I will also have the privilege of not having to go around the country raising money." Coats said that by not seeking reelection, he will have time to address issues “that will take a long time to address, whether it is the terrorism issue or the debt issue.”

Coats told HPI that he will not make an endorsement for the Republican nomination, though he said he has been encouraging Holcomb “to seek elective office.” Coats explained that Holcomb had thought “he might run in 2018 against Joe Donnelly,” Coats said. “When I told him that I was leaning in this direction, he said he was going to talk this over with his wife. We have a good bench of people who have experience. I don’t have any idea who might run. But I don’t think it’s right for me to make a formal endorsement.”

Developing . . . .