by Matthew Tully
Most of the state's political attention this week has focused on Sen. Evan Bayh's surprise retirement from the U.S. Senate and the efforts by his fellow Democrats to select a new nominee.
But on the other side of the aisle, Republicans are gearing up for a crowded, entertaining and possibly divisive primary. Although several candidates are expected to be on the ballot when filing closes today, the GOP race for now looks like a referendum on one contender in particular: former Sen. Dan Coats.
We'll start with some pluses.
Name ID: Here's the rest of the potential field: former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, Richmond financial adviser Don Bates Jr. and Fishers business owner Richard Behney. Not exactly a star-studded lineup.
Coats, meanwhile, spent a decade as Indiana's junior senator, winning two statewide elections along the way. In a crowded primary field, and with less than three months for candidates to meet voters before they head to the polls, Coats has the advantage of not having to introduce himself to as many Hoosiers, or convince them of his credentials.
After all, many Hoosiers have already voted for him. His job now will be to convince them he's still worthy of that vote. Additionally, his profile likely will give him a crucially important edge in fundraising.
The surprise factor: It's easy to forget, but not so long ago it appeared the Senate seat was comfortably in Democratic hands. Coats' entry focused attention quickly on the race, causing handicappers to label it competitive even before Bayh's decision. Coats made a splash that energized many Republicans, and that could pay off on Election Day.High-caliber politician: In a short, intense campaign, there is little room for error. Coats has been through big campaigns before and should be ready for the spotlight. He still has statewide contacts and relationships, and a deep understanding of the issues the next senator will face.
Go to Matthew Tully, Indianapolis Star, to read further...