Image: Dan Coats
Ron Edmonds  /  AP
In a recruiting coup, Sen. Dan Coats, above, plans to challenge Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana in November, Republican officials said Wednesday.
updated 2/3/2010 4:28:15 PM ET 2010-02-03T21:28:15

In a recruiting coup, former GOP Sen. Dan Coats said Wednesday he's preparing to challenge Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana in November, a potential matchup already generating tough talk.

The GOP has sought new opportunities to pick up seats and cut into the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill after Republican Scott Brown's recent upset in a special Senate election in Massachusetts.

Coats, who retains strong name recognition even though he's not an Indiana resident now, would bring a high profile to the race, where Republicans believe the two-term incumbent may be vulnerable. At least four other Republicans have said they will seek the nomination in the May 4 primary, and Coats is in a race to secure the necessary signatures in the next few weeks to qualify for the ballot.

That didn't stop him from pounding away on "the failure by our leaders in Washington to listen to those they were elected to represent," particularly on what he considers out-of-control spending.

Sensing a difficult race if Coats were the nominee, Democrats quickly made it clear they would spotlight Coats' work in the private sector, which has included lobbying for financial companies such as Credit Suisse and Bank of America. Coats was a lobbyist for Bank of America when it accepted $15 billion in the bank bailout.

Coats said in a statement he has authorized supporters in Indiana to try to gather the required number of signatures from voters by a Feb. 16 deadline as he tests the waters for a potential challenge against to Bayh.

Though Coats is now a resident of Virginia, the Constitution merely requires that he be an "inhabitant" of Indiana when he's elected.

Emphasizing pocketbook issues, Coats said that while Indiana families have "sacrificed to make ends meet during these tough economic times, our elected officials in Washington continue to run up massive deficits, recklessly borrowing and spending record amounts of taxpayer money."

A former lobbyist
It was in 1998 when Coats decided not to seek re-election, avoiding a race with then-Gov. Bayh. Since then, Coats has served as ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush and worked as a lobbyist in Washington. Coats is no longer an Indiana resident, having registered to vote in Virginia after he left the Senate. He voted in primary and general elections in Virginia from 2000 through 2008.

Republicans intend to make an issue of Bayh's support of President Barack Obama's agenda, including health care legislation and the economic stimulus. Some polls have shown Bayh could be vulnerable.

To get on the ballot, Coats must get 4,500 signatures from registered Indiana voters — 500 from each of the state's nine congressional districts — and submit them by Feb. 16. County clerks then must certify them and turn them into the Indiana Election Division by Feb. 19, the filing deadline.

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Coats is a conservative Republican, while Bayh is a moderate Democrat who toyed with the idea of running for president in 2008.

When Coats retired in 1998, he said he was tired of constantly raising money to run for office. Bayh went on to defeat the mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., and won re-election comfortably in 2004, even as President George W. Bush captured a second term.

Democrats indicated they would make an issue of Coats' lobbying work.

"Coats is a Washington, D.C. insider who lined his own pockets as taxpayers spent $700 billion bailing out Wall Street banks," said Eric Schultz a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Hoosiers won't ignore Dan Coats' decade as a lobbyist working the system to gain special favors for the banking industry at the time of financial collapse and at the expense of working Americans."

Democrats in Indiana said they expected a tough contest if Coats is the GOP nominee.

"He will be a formidable candidate, you can't take that lightly," said Indiana House Speaker Patrick Bauer, a Democrat.

Republicans who have announced they are in the race are former Rep. John Hostettler, state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, financial adviser Don Bates Jr. and businessman Richard Behney.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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