WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana announced his retirement Tuesday, opening up a Senate seat in a GOP-friendly state that could attract a roster of hopefuls from both parties.
"This was not an easy decision," Coats, 71, said in a statement announcing that he would step down at the end of his term rather than seek re-election in 2016. "While I believe I am well-positioned to run a successful campaign for another six-year term, I have concluded that the time has come to pass this demanding job to the next generation of leaders."
Coats is serving his second full term in the Senate. He was first appointed to the Senate in 1988, replacing Dan Quayle when Quayle was tapped as the GOP vice-presidential nominee. He was elected to his first full term in 1992 but retired in 1998, honoring a term-limits pledge and going on to serve as ambassador to Germany under George W. Bush. He was elected to his second full term in 2010, after Democrat Evan Bayh retired.
Coats is a solid conservative who focused on budgetary and fiscal issues in the Senate. But he's occasionally broken with fellow party members, most recently becoming one of just a handful of Republicans who refused to sign on to a controversial open letter to the leaders of Iran earlier this month aimed at undercutting Obama administration attempts to reach a nuclear deal with that country.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Coats' series of titles, beginning as a House member, "tell only a part of what this kind and humble Hoosier has been able to achieve. Washington is going to miss Sen. Coats' expertise on economic and national security issues, and I'm going to miss his wise counsel and trusted friendship here in the Senate."
Coats' announcement opens the way for what could be a lively campaign to replace him, with several House members leading the list of potential candidates on the GOP side, including Reps. Marlin Stutzman, Todd Rokita, Jackie Walorski, Todd Young and Susan Brooks. On the Democratic side, former Reps. Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth are seen as possible candidates, and Democrats are also interested in luring Bayh out of retirement.
Bayh, now a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm, still has nearly $10 million in his federal campaign coffers that could go toward another run. An adviser, Dan Parker, said that Bayh "is not a candidate," but wouldn't rule out the possibility of that changing.
The GOP would be favored to hang onto the seat, but Indiana has voted for Democrats, including in 2012, when Joe Donnelly, then a congressman, defeated a tea-party backed Republican who had knocked off longtime GOP moderate Sen. Richard Lugar. The state also narrowly backed President Barack Obama in 2008, though not 2012. Democrats promised to contest the seat.
"Democrats are ready to put together a strong campaign just like we did in 2012. We're confident that we will find a great candidate who will put Indiana first and win this seat in 2016," said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who leads the Democrats' Senate campaign efforts.
The Republicans' Senate campaign chairman, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, touted a strong bench in Indiana and said, "I am confident we will have another capable Republican joining us in the Senate in 2016."
Coats becomes the third senator to announce plans to retire rather than seek re-election. The others are Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Republicans control 54 seats in the Senate to Democrats' 46, so Democrats would have to pick up a net of four or five seats to retake the majority, depending on which party wins the White House and can send the vice president to cast tie-breaking votes.