INDIANAPOLIS - The Republicans have their best-known recruit officially in the race as state Democrats are still scrambling to find a candidate a day after Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's stunning decision not to seek a third term this fall.
Former Republican Sen. Dan Coats' campaign said Tuesday it has more than enough petition signatures to put him on Indiana's May primary ballot for what is now expected to be one of the marquee races this fall.
But Mr. Bayh's abrupt retirement announcement Monday has left Democrats without an official primary candidate for a Senate seat they desperately hope to hold. The 32 members of the state Democratic Central Committee must now select their party's nominee after the only Democrat seeking to run for the Senate seat missed out on qualifying for the primary ballot.
State Democratic Chairman Dan Parker said Bloomington cafe owner Tamyra d'Ippolito failed to submit the needed 500 signatures in the 7th District. The Marion County voter registration office reports it received just three signatures for her by Tuesday's deadline.
Mr. Coats won't have a clear path to his party's nomination, as at least four other Republicans expect to be on the ballot.
Coats spokesman Kevin Kellems said Hoosiers had responded with "tremendous enthusiasm" in helping gather the required 4,500 signatures since Mr. Coats announced his campaign on Feb. 3.
Mr. Coats, 66, spent 10 years in the Senate but did not seek re-election in 1998, avoiding a contest against the popular Mr. Bayh. He said in an interview last week that as a former senator he was in the best position among the Republicans seeking the nomination for an expected challenge to Mr. Bayh's bid for a third Senate term.
Mr. Kellems said Tuesday that Mr. Coats was taking nothing for granted now that Mr. Bayh was off the ballot.
"Many Democrat political pros and the White House see this race as a factor in maintaining control of the U.S. Senate to protect the president's extreme political agenda, and therefore will field and finance a very strong campaign," Mr. Kellems said.
Of the other four seeking the Republican nomination, former Rep. John Hostettler said he also had enough signatures, as did state Sen. Marlin Stutzman of Howe, who filed for the primary Tuesday. Financial adviser Don Bates Jr. of Winchester filed last week for the Republican primary.
A spokesman for businessman Richard Behney, an activist in the state's "tea party" movement, said he also had enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Mr. Stutzman said Tuesday he had traveled the state for more than 18,000 miles over the past several months laying a foundation for his campaign. He predicted that Republicans would not be fractured after the May 4 primary.
"I think once we get through the primary, we're going to work hard and come together to elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate," he said.
Democratic leaders will have until June 30 to fill their slot, and Mr. Parker, the party chairman, said the central committee will not call a meeting until there is a consensus for the party's eventual choice. Two downstate moderate House Democrats, Reps. Baron P. Hill and Brad Ellsworth, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Mr. Bayh, 54, had until recent weeks been regarded as a near certainty for re-election, having raised nearly $13 million for his campaign and facing little-known Republican opposition until national Republicans recruited Mr. Coats to enter the race.
Mr. Bayh has not said what he will do with his campaign money.
Christian Hilland, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, said Mr. Bayh had to refund more than $570,000 he received that is earmarked specifically for the 2010 general election. Of the rest, he can spend $2,000 in the primary and again on the general election for individual federal candidates.
He can transfer as much as he wants to the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and can give money to the Indiana Democratic Party, Mr. Hilland said.
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