ROANOKE, Ind. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman entered Indiana's U.S. Senate race on Saturday, telling supporters he wants to replace retiring Republican Sen. Dan Coats because the nation needs more conservative leaders to boost economic growth, rein in spending and face national security threats.
The three-term Republican congressman from northeast Indiana's 3rd District announced his Senate bid in the town of Roanoke, where hundreds of supporters in the community of about 1,700 residents filled a street blocked off for the event.
Stutzman, a tea party favorite, announced his Senate candidacy from a stage where the backdrop was a large American flag. He told supporters he'll never apologize for "being a God-fearing, gun-packing" conservative.
"If you're a conservative, be a conservative: Be consistent," said Stutzman, a fourth-generation Indiana farmer.
The 38-year-old congressman's entry into the race pits him against former Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb, who launched his campaign last month after Coats, 71, announced he wouldn't seek re-election in 2016.
Other Republicans might also enter Indiana's Senate race. Possible Democratic candidates include former Rep. Baron Hill and former Sen. Evan Bayh, who did not seek a third term in 2010, the same year Coats returned to the Senate after a 12-year absence.
Coats had defeated Stutzman in the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate primary election. Stutzman was elected to his first term in Congress that year after GOP Rep. Mark Souder abruptly resigned after admitting an extramarital affair with a staffer.
In the House, Stutzman has often pushed for an uncompromising approach on the GOP agenda. And in January, he was among 25 Republican representatives to oppose the re-election of Ohio Rep. John Boehner as House speaker.
Stutzman said after Saturday's announcement that the nation's lack of economic growth, stagnant wages, "out of control" spending and national security issues, including the threat posed by Islamic State militants, are some of the issues driving his Senate run.
"Conservative ideas are ones that would get our country back on track. Spending is out of control in Washington and we just cannot sustain the level of spending we have," he said. "The nation's $18 trillion of debt is one that our kids and grandkids are going to have to deal with for years and years to come."
Stutzman and other relatives, including his father, run a northern Indiana farm of 4,000 acres where they grow soybeans, green beans and seed corn. He and his wife, Christy, have two sons.