INDIANAPOLIS—While other Republican senators across the nation keep getting primary challenges from the right, Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana may get a free ride to his party’s nomination in two years.
Coats has not officially announced he’ll seek reelection in 2016, but he’s making all the expected moves in that direction. He’s picked up Indiana’s former GOP chairman Eric Holcomb as his chief of staff in the state, and he makes a point to come back to visit Indiana often.
His supporters can make a convincing case against anyone mounting a challenge from within the Republican Party. Coats has been a bridge builder between the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the GOP. He’s been an articulate free-market advocate as well as a strong pro-life voice. He’s also put forth alternatives to big government answers to the problems of poverty and the breakdown of the family. On international issues, Coats has offered a conservative critique of the Obama administration, helped by his experience as ambassador to Germany.
A potential 2016 challenger might be U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman from northeast Indiana. But Stutzman aspires to leadership in the House, hoping to try again after losing a race for the majority whip spot.
“Dan’s name identification is off the charts compared to Marlin’s,” notes another former state GOP chairman, Mike McDaniel. “Coats is touching all the bases all the time. He’s talking about all kinds of issues.” Plus, Coats is known for doing his homework on little stuff that matters much to constituents.
He’s also shown that he can work with Democrats, joining with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on a technical but important proposal to allow investors get federally funded research into the marketplace quicker.
Potential tea party challengers will have a hard time labeling Coats a big spender. He’s been honored as a Taxpayer Hero by the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, based on his voting record.
He also is not making the same error that made former Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana vulnerable to a challenge in 2012. “Coats is traveling back to the far parts of the state,” said state Sen. Jim Banks, a key party activist in northeast Indiana. “He’s always visiting with tea party groups and other key constituent groups in our party.”
Another factor in heading off opponents is his character and manner.
“He does his work in a winsome way,” said a former staffer, Curt Smith, who heads one of the state’s top social conservative groups, the Indiana Family Institute. “He’s not confrontational.” Smith cites some old political wisdom: “Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. He’s not making enemies.”
Coats’ personal approach finds affirmation in one of the wisdom books of the Bible, Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”