Republicans find their Coats

REPUBLICANS FIND THEIR COATS…. Republican leaders in D.C. and Indiana have been working overtime to find a credible challenger for Sen. Evan Bayh (D). In recent weeks, the two most credible opponents — Rep. Mike Pence and Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita — announced they would skip the race.

Today, however, the GOP appears to have landed a strong recruit.

Former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said Wednesday that he is moving forward with a challenge to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

Coats didn’t say he’s definitely in, but he will need to move fast if he is to make the ballot. He will need to collect 500 signatures from each of the state’s nine congressional districts over the next two weeks.

Today’s announcement wasn’t a formal campaign kick-off, and Coats said he merely intends to “test the waters.” But it seems unlikely that Coats would launch this committee unless he fully intends to run.

At least on paper, the Republican seems to be a credible challenger. Coats held this exact same Senate seat for a decade, before retiring 12 years ago and seeing Bayh succeed him. He also served in the Bush administration as the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

But I think it’s fair to say Coats faces an uphill climb, and not just because Bayh is a relatively popular incumbent with a whole lot of money in the campaign coffers.

First, Coats, after returning from Germany, became a corporate lobbyist in D.C., representing, among other clients, Bank of America. Given that neither banks nor lobbyists are held in especially high regard right now, Coats represents a tough-sell to Hoosiers.

Second, Coats represented Indiana in Congress for many years, but he doesn’t live or own a home in the state. He’s not even registered to vote in Indiana, and at present, couldn’t even vote for himself. In fact, Coats lives inside the beltway — as many corporate lobbyists do — and has voted in Virginia since 2000.

Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Hari Sevugan said in a statement, “Dan Coats is a Washington lobbyist for the banking industry, who lives inside the beltway, and is registered to vote on the east coast. Sounds like a great candidate for the heartland. Was Jack Abramoff not available?”

Ouch.

Let’s also not forget that Coats’ congressional career wasn’t exactly sterling. He is perhaps best known for criticizing President Clinton for his efforts to kill Osama bin Laden in 1998.

In the larger context, Coats probably wouldn’t even consider a race against Bayh unless he was convinced this is a strong year for Republicans. And it may be. But given Coats’ background, profession, and residence, Bayh probably isn’t panicking right now.