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Intrigue in Indiana

With Bayh's retirement, the political field opens.

3:20 PM, Feb 16, 2010 • By KENNETH Y. TOMLINSON
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A host of Washington journalist insiders (including the usually reliable Carl Cameron of Fox News) reported that polls showed Evan Bayh with a comfortable lead earlier this week when the Indiana Democrat announced he would not seek reelection this fall.

Intrigue in Indiana

That was far from the case.

Just three weeks ago, a Rasmussen poll showed Bayh in deep trouble back home in Indiana.  Reported Rasmussen:  A survey of likely voters “finds that Bayh attracts support from just 44% or 45% of voters when matched against his top potential Republican challengers.” 

For a well-known incumbent to fall below 50 percent in voter surveys is a real sign of political danger ahead, and Rasmussen concluded that Bayh would likely face “a tough reelection battle” in the fall. 

Meanwhile, there is real GOP pushback in Indiana to the Washington-blessed candidacy of former Sen. Dan Coats for the Bayh seat. 

With reason.

CNN reports that Democrats have unearthed a video showing Coats at his new home in North Carolina saying the Tar Heel state is “a better place” to live than Indiana.  Critics also are combing through records from Coats recent work as a lobbyist, searching for clients who might lead to political embarrassment.

His two Republican challengers are hammering away at his voting record on Second Amendment issues that often play big in Hoosier state GOP primaries.  Coats was one of only a handful of senate Republicans to vote for the Brady gun control bill.

Coats chose to leave the Senate 12 years ago rather than face a challenge from the then politically popular Gov. Evan Bayh.

The GOP lost its strongest candidate for the Bayh seat when Rep. Mike Pence decided to forgo the senate race to continue on his path up the ladder of the House Republican leadership.

But the increasingly influential RedState blogger Erick Erickson came out today with a strong endorsement of state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a young farmer has an impressive record in the Indiana legislature. 

Writes Erickson:  “The GOP needs to change its public image that voters have.  It should not be using retired Senators who moved out of the state and become a lobbyist to do that.  We need younger faces and fresher voices.  We needs guys like Marco Rubio.  And we need guys like Marlin Stutzman.”

Erickson was one of the conservative leaders that produced a huge influx in campaign contributions for Conservative Doug Hoffman in NY-23.  Stutzman will need every penny Erickson followers can produce—because he is no household name in Indiana.

The other Republican running for the Bayh seat is former Rep. John Hostettler.  He is better known—and that isn’t always a political plus.

He too is hammering away at Coats' Second Amendment record, but when it comes to gun control, Hostettler has a record of his own. In August of 2004 he pleaded guilty to carrying a loaded semiautomatic handgun into a security checkpoint in Louisville International Airport.

On foreign policy issues, Hostettler tends to reflect the views of Ron Paul.

Hostettler was swept into office at age 33 in 1994, but managed to win reelection five times in Indiana’s “Bloody-Eight” which in the 1970’s had the distinction of sending four different congressmen to the House in four successive elections.  The judge sentenced him to 60-days in prison but suspended the sentence.

Hostettler established a reputation as a terrible fund raiser—in fairness he refused to accept PAC money—and the Almanac of American Politics notes he once won reelection despite being outspent 2 to 1 by his Democrat opponent.  He lost his House seat in 2006. 

Conventional wisdom says he will need big-bucks to beat the ever likeable Coats, who remains a clear favorite to win the GOP nomination. 

Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee, however, political handicappers say, Indiana is another likely Republican pick-up, inching the GOP ever closer to a Senate majority.

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