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The Journal Gazette

  • Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 10:31 pm

Coats' support still on table

Brian Francisco | Washington editor

Retiring U.S. Sen. Dan Coats is rethinking whether he will endorse one of the Republican candidates hoping to take his place.

"I said I wasn’t going to, and I haven’t," Coats, R-Ind., said Tuesday. "I haven’t totally made the decision that under no circumstances will I do this."

Four Republicans and two Democrats are vying to succeed Coats, who announced in March that he will not seek re-election to a second straight term in 2016.

"I think there are people there with experience and capabilities," Coats said about the GOP field during a meeting with The Journal Gazette’s editorial board.

He said he might back someone ahead of the May 3 Republican primary election if he sees the race "going the wrong way or it jeopardizes the seat" so that a Democratic nominee gains momentum.

"In the end, if it would make a difference, I might give that consideration," he said about a potential endorsement. "But right now, I just think it should play out – let everybody speak who they are, where they are, where their support comes from and what they’d be like" as a senator.

Announced Republican candidates are former Coats aide and former state GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb, U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young, and financial consultant Kevin Grant. Announced Democratic candidates are Young predecessor Baron Hill and John Dickerson, who headed a nonprofit organization. 

Republican state Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel has said he is considering a run for Coats’ seat.

Coats predicted that a major issue in the GOP race will be whether candidates advocate for "a more reasonable" way to govern or show a willingness to shut down the government because of rigid partisan or ideological beliefs.

In late July, 18 Republicans in the House signed a letter to their leadership stating they would not support any federal spending legislation that contains funding for Planned Parenthood. Neither Stutzman nor Young signed the letter.

Last December, Stutzman voted against a $1.1 trillion spending bill, which Young and Coats favored, to keep the government running. In October 2013, Stutzman opposed a three-month spending plan, which Young and Coats supported, to end a partial shutdown of the government. In December 2013, Stutzman and Young voted to approve a two-year budget framework, which Coats opposed.

Coats, a member of the House in the 1980s and the Senate in the 1990s, said Tuesday that the recent popularity of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump "reflects the frustration of people in terms of the dysfunction in government and lack of trust" in Congress and the White House.

"I don’t think he’s the person that ought to be commander in chief and president of the United States, but he has tapped into (distrust) better than anybody else has, and you’ve seen the public reaction," Coats said.

He noted that independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has done the same thing in his campaign for the Democratic nomination.

"What’s interesting to me is that in both parties, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the same old, same old and business as usual," Coats said.

He said the Republican nominee "should be someone coming out of a governorship or not coming out of the Congress" because "Congress doesn’t have the support of the American people that you would need to be successful, and there’s a bunch of governors out there and others that have really made the tough decisions and taken their states from negative to positive."

He named three among the Republican presidential field: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. Coats’ preferences leave out three of his colleagues: Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

bfrancisco@jg.net