Former GOP House Rep. John Hostettler Leads by Double Digits over Two Potential Opponents in the November 2010 Indiana Senate Race

A few days after Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh rocked the Democratic Party via his unexpected announcement that he will not run in the November 2010 election, the first public polling released, from Rasmussen Reports, shows a strong double digit lead for both former GOP House Rep. John Hostettler and former GOP Senator Dan Coats over the two possible Bayh replacement Democrat nominees – Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth:

As expected with incumbent Senator Evan Bayh’s surprise announcement this week that he will not seek reelection, Indiana’s U.S. Senate race is wide open. The three leading Republican contenders all post leads for now over the two most prominently mentioned Democratic hopefuls, but it’s not even clear if those Democrats are in the race.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Indiana voters shows former GOP Congressman John Hostettler leading Baron Hill 49% to 31% and Brad Ellsworth 46% to 27%.

Former Senator Dan Coats, whose entry in the race has the blessing of the GOP establishment but has angered some Indiana Republicans, runs ahead of Hill 48% to 32% and ahead of Ellsworth 46% to 32%.

As of now, the DC and Indiana Democrats appear divided which candidate to support in the Democrat caucus process that will determine the Indiana Democratic Senate candidate for the general election, with the most mentioned possibilities being Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth. The left wing new media, on the other hand, appears to be backing a celebrity candidate, rock star John Cougar Mellencamp, as Bayh’s replacement on the November 2010 ballot:

As Indiana Democratic leaders scramble to replace Evan Bayh in the US Senate race, one name is emerging from left field: rock musician John Mellencamp.

When questioned Wednesday, Mellencamp publicist Bob Merlis responded to the Monitor via e-mail this way: “As of now, there is no response.” The lack of an answer — which was the same given to the Indianapolis Star Wednesday — is helping the Internet rumor mill churn even faster.

Grassroots efforts are urging Mr. Mellencamp to take the leap. On MSNBC Tuesday, Katrina Van Heuvel, editor of The Nation, suggested that Mellencamp could be a “populist candidate” as someone “who worked very hard for farmers who faced foreclosures” and “a Heartland son of Indiana.”

While popular in Indiana, Political Science Professor Brian S. Vargus, of Indiana University, sees little chance of a Mellencamp victory in the November 2010 election. Hill and Ellsworth have their own problems, however, as Hill is on video harshly attacking his constituents at a health care town hall meeting and Ellsworth has problems with his base on LGBT issues.

On the Republican side, the battle between John Hostettler and Dan Coats should make for interesting political theater for the next few months in the run-up to the GOP Senate primary in May 2010. Of course, there will be no Democrat Senate primary, as no candidates qualified for the ballot, so the Hostettler-Coats race will garner higher interest from the public both before the primary and on primary day with possible crossover voters in what amounts to an essentially open primary process. Barring a wholesale shift in the national political environment, the May 2010 GOP Senate primary appears to be the key race this year in Indiana as whether Hostettler or Coats emerge victorious, in the post-Bayh environment the likelihood of a GOP Senate pickup in Indiana is very high.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that Ellsworth has officially thrown his hat in the ring for the Indiana Democratic Senate nomination, as to be determined by caucusing by the Indiana Democratic Party. Baron Hill was previously rumored to be the favorite of the White House so Ellsworth’s announcement today could set the stage for a bitter, behind the scenes fight between Hill and Ellsworth, although WaPo notes that the White House favors Ellsworth. Hill’s status is still unknown, and WaPo explains how the process of choosing a nominee will unfold:

Because no Democratic candidate filed the necessary signatures to qualify for the primary ballot, the 32-member Democratic state central committee will select the party’s candidate — although they cannot do so until after the scheduled May 4 primary. It’s also not clear whether any other Democrat will compete with Ellsworth for the Senate nomination; Rep. Baron Hill has expressed interest in a statewide race in the past.

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