Coats now free to compromise

Sen. Dan Coats, a nice guy in an increasingly nasty business, will step away from that business on his own terms. He is positioned now to do some important business for the nation before he leaves.

The Indiana Republican announced he will not seek re-election in 2016.

Coats would have faced tea party opposition in the Republican primary election and, if he fared better than former Sen. Dick Lugar did against a tea party favorite in the 2012 GOP primary, he would have faced a determined Democratic challenge in the fall.

That would have meant all-out fundraising and campaigning, and cautious political evaluation of every vote cast and word spoken in the Senate, for the remaining two years of his term.

Now, as Coats said, he won’t have to concentrate on campaigning but can “focus all of my time and energy on the major challenges that Hoosiers sent me to Washington to address.”

Without having to protect against a primary challenger accusing him of “surrender” for reaching across the aisle in compromise, Coats could become a key figure in finding agreements to break Washington stalemate on key issues. His refrain from heated rhetoric would enable him to talk to both sides.

Coats has been frustrated with lack of agreement on issues of immigration, the deficit and long-range funding of programs such as Social Security.

Coats once told me of how, at a dinner with several other Republican senators and President Obama, he “poured out my heart and soul” in a plea for a bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement.

He said he lamented the lack of trust and increasing nastiness in politics and in the news media that have made compromise to solve any problem almost impossible.

With Coats not running, there is likely to be a crowded field of contenders for the Republican Senate nomination.

And there was immediate speculation that former Sen. Evan Bayh might have interest now in seeking the Democratic nomination and a return to the Senate.

Republican prospects include several members of Congress, especially Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who finished second to Coats in a five-candidate race for the nomination in 2010.

Also mentioned in early speculation are Reps. Jackie Walorski, Todd Young, Todd Rokita and Susan Brooks. Any of them would have to give up possible re-election to the House in entering the Senate primary. All certainly would not do that, but there is no political harm in at least being mentioned for what is considered higher office.

Also a possibility for the Republican nomination is Eric Holcomb, Coats’ in-state chief of staff and a former Republican state chairman who was a key figure in the election and administration of former Gov. Mitch Daniels. He would be regarded as the “establishment” candidate.

Bayh could be a possibility for the Democratic nomination — the nomination would be his for the asking — but he would have to convince Hoosier voters in the fall election that he really wanted to go back to the chamber where he said he didn’t want to serve anymore.

Bayh is mentioned because he still has millions in campaign funds and remains well known as a former governor and senator.

Coats stepped away from seeking re-election in his first service in the Senate in 1998, and Bayh won the seat. Bayh then made a startling last-minute decision not to seek re-election in 2010, and Coats won the seat.

Bayh toyed with running for governor again but decided against that. If he also decides not to try for a Senate comeback, a top prospect for the Democratic nomination would be former Rep. Baron Hill. Hill has been considering a race for either governor or the Senate.

Jack Colwell is a writer for the South Bend Tribune. Send comments to