Coats, Fisher win; NC-Senate to runoff
Updated, 10:15 pm
Former Sen. Dan Coats won the Republican Senate nomination in Indiana tonight in a race that had drawn significant attention from national conservative leaders.
Coats beat out two candidates -- state Sen. Marlin Stutzman and former Rep. John Hostettler -- who had sought to tap into the energy of the tea party movement nationwide. Stutzman won the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, an emerging conservative leader, and that support seemed to propel the little known state senator into a second place finish.
That showing by Stutzman came as something of a surprise given the fact that Hostettler spent more than a decade in Congress. DeMint said that Stutzman had "exceeded all expectations with an unwavering commitment to conservative principles" despite coming up short.
Coats, who was heavily recruited into the Senate race by national Republicans, moves on to face Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) in the fall election. Ellsworth, who has represented a southern Indiana district since 2006, will formally become his party's nominee on May 15 -- a process necessitated by Sen. Evan Bayh's (D) retirement. Bayh's departure came so close to the state's filing deadline that no Democrat was able to gather the signatures to make it onto the ballot, leaving the decision up to a group of party officials.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) sought to seize on that selection process as an issue in a memo released Tuesday night.
"Unlike the Democrat[ic] party bosses who plan to hand-pick their nominee this month without an open primary election, Republicans in Indiana have participated in a spirited, open, and inclusive primary contest over the last several months," said Cornyn.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz retorted that Coats was a "deeply flawed candidate" and a "Washington lobbyist".
Indiana was one of three states that held primaries Tuesday.
In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher bested Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to claim the Democratic Senate primary nomination and move on to face former Rep. Rob Portman (R) in the fall campaign.
Fisher has struggled badly to deliver on the initial promise of his candidacy but national Democrats insisted that a staff shakeup several months ago had led to a turnaround. Fisher was also aided by Brunner's inability to raise sufficient amounts of campaign cash, an edge that allowed him to run several weeks of television ads with no response from his opponent. Fisher begins the general election at a significant cash deficit to Portman, however.
In North Carolina, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) are headed for a June 22 runoff after neither candidate broke 40 percent of the vote.
That result buys national Democrats a bit more time to try and help Cunningham across the line. The national party helped recruit Cunningham into the race under the belief that he was the candidate best equipped to beat Sen. Richard Burr (R) but watched as Cunningham underpeformed on the fundraising front and struggled to make up ground against the better known Marshall. Democrats view Burr, who won the seat in 2004, as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country.
The Indiana race drew the most attention of all the races on the ballot nationwide Tuesday as some cast it as a referendum on the power of the tea party movement. Coats' victory, which ensures that the race will be near the top of Republican pickup opportunities, came after a surprisingly difficult primary campaign in which he struggled to adjust to Democratic attacks on his past lobbying work as well as a statement he made in 2008 that he planned to move to North Carolina when he retired.
Polling suggests that Coats starts the general election as a slight favorite although Democrats insist that the problems he encountered in the primary will be magnified in a major way come November.
At the House level, embattled Indiana Reps. Mark Souder (R) and Dan Burton (R) won their respective races.
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