SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Republican midterm victories in Indiana represent an almost complete about-face from recent Democratic gains and foreshadow a vastly different political landscape in the Hoosier state.
Dan Coats easily defeated U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Democrat Evan Bayh. This GOP pick-up means Coats, a senator from 1989 until 1999, rejoins fellow Republican Richard Lugar as the Indiana senators.
Going into Tuesday's voting, Democrats held five of the state's nine U.S. House seats. For the next Congress, beginning in January, six of the nine will be occupied by Republicans.
GOP candidates Larry Bucshon and Todd Young in the 8th and 9th Districts, respectively, flipped seats that Democrats won in both 2006 and 2008. Democratic incumbent Baron Hill lost to Young, while Bucshon defeated William Van Haaflen for the seat now occupied by Ellsworth.
The sole survivor from the Democrats' three-seat House gain from 2006 was Rep. Joe Donnelly, who beat Jackie Walorski, a state representative, 48 percent to 47 percent, in the 2nd District. This race -- Donnelly's campaign manager happens to be this writer's son -- proved to be Indiana's most expensive for the House and one of the nastiest in the country.
When all the bills are tabulated, upwards of $5.5 million will have bankrolled the two campaigns. According to Sunlight Foundation figures, outside spending in the contest exceeded $3.5 million, with Donnelly the beneficiary of almost $2.7 million and Walorski over $800,000.
The air war combat began in the summer and became so fierce the district's largest newspaper, the South Bend Tribune, declined to endorse either candidate. Making an issue of "the disgraceful ads with which these two candidates for Congress have been polluting the airwaves," the Tribune editorial charged that Donnelly and Walorski "disgraced themselves" with the broadcast commercials that became impossible to avoid.
In both the 2nd and 9th District contests, the Indiana Democratic Party sent fliers to Republican voters that proposed supporting the Libertarian candidate in each race to reduce the Republican percentage. Democrats spent $30,000 for the mailings, according to one report, and in the 2nd District Libertarian Mark Vogel got 5 percent.
Indiana in 2010 couldn't be more different from Election Day here two years ago. In 2008, Barack Obama carried the state by over 28,000 votes, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate had won Indiana since Lyndon Johnson's landslide in 1964.
But Democratic fortunes began to change last Feb. 15, when Bayh unexpectedly announced he wouldn't seek re-election. By waiting as long as he did, Bayh forced party officials to select someone for the Senate nomination. There wasn't enough time for Ellsworth or anyone else to compete in the May primary, meaning that Ellsworth didn't receive nearly as much statewide media coverage as the five Republicans who vied for the Senate nomination.
In addition, Ellsworth, a respected former sheriff, relinquished the prospect of re-election to the House from the 8th District by running against Coats. Some Democrats grumble that Bayh's late decision ended up costing their party seats in both the Senate and the House.
As Republicans found their footing in Indiana this year, whispering about 2012 began to compete with discussions about this cycle. Republican insiders talked about Gov. Mitch Daniels and Rep. Mike Pence as potential players for the GOP's free-for-all presidential contest that will take shape over the next few months.
Pence, winner of the presidential straw poll at the recent Values Voter Summit and Republican Conference chairman, announced Wednesday he is resigned from the House leadership. Besides a possible White House bid, he's also contemplating a run for governor in two years.
But before that decision's made, Republicans calling the shots on congressional redistricting are already musing about how to draw the 2nd District boundaries so Donnelly will have trouble winning a fourth term. Republicans, who already hold a majority in the state Senate, picked up enough seats in the Indiana House of Representatives on Tuesday to take control of it. This situation will allow Daniels to push his agenda with relative ease.
Republicans, though, aren't the only ones looking ahead. Bayh, a popular two-term governor before winning a pair of Senate races, might make another gubernatorial try of his own in 2012. Whether he can rebound from the current ill feelings directed at him deserves watching.
In 2008, Obama made a last-minute visit to Indianapolis on Election Day to show Hoosiers how much he wanted to win the state bordering his Illinois home. Tuesday's midterm results suggest that Indiana's 11 Electoral College votes will be difficult for the president to keep in his column on Nov. 6, 2012.