Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth said Friday he will run for Evan Bayh's Indiana Senate seat.
Ellsworth made the announcement in his hometown of Evansville. The two-term congressman stated only that it was his "intention to run for the Senate of the United States," without elaborating, before he walked into a town hall meeting.
Ellsworth emerged as a leading Democratic choice after Bayh's surprise announcement Monday. The 51-year-old former lawman is considered an attractive candidate because he won by big margins in both his campaigns his largely rural congressional district in southwestern Indiana after eight years as sheriff of the district's largest county.
Former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg said Ellsworth would be the party's best candidate.
"Aside from being electable, he's really not been in Congress long enough to be termed an insider," Gregg said. "He's actually a conservative Democrat, which makes him a moderate, which is what most Hoosiers are — moderate to conservative. He is a hard worker, he is sincere and he listens."
Ellsworth has positioned himself as a fiscal conservative and an opponent of abortion rights. Republicans have criticized his votes in favor of the banking system bailout and last year's stimulus package backed by President Barack Obama.
Other candidates could be considered by the state Democratic Party's 32-member central committee, which will pick the nominee since no one met this week's filing deadline for the May 4 primary.
Rep. Baron Hill has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Senate nomination and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has said he is interested.
Former Sen. Dan Coats, who left office in 1998, is being backed by national Republicans in what is a crowded field in the primary for the GOP nomination. Other candidates include former Rep. John Hostettler — whom Ellsworth unseated in 2006 — and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman.
Hostettler said after filing his candidacy on Wednesday that he'd welcome another race against Ellsworth.
"Someone that ran as someone that was not very liberal in 2006 has a very different record that he gets to run on this time," Hostettler said.
Ellsworth unseated the six-term Hostettler in 2006 with 61 percent of the vote and won re-election with a nearly 65 percent support in 2008.
He's also been a successful campaign fundraiser — an important attribute going into his first statewide race with the November election little more than eight months away. He ended 2009 with more than $500,000 in his campaign fund and raised nearly $1.6 million for his 2008 campaign.