Count Indiana’s Rep. Brad Ellsworth among today’s Democratic dead. Republican Dan Coats beat out Ellsworth, capturing the seat of retiring Democrat Evan Bayh. Coats eked out of May’s primary with 39% of the vote, earning ridicule from the Democrats for his slim plurality. But Republicans will have the last laugh, at least until 2012. And so will K Street.
A former Senator and ambassador to Germany, Coats has spent his off-years as a lobbyist for a number of clients including Google, Lockheed Martin, and Bank of America. In a less enflamed political climate, Coats’ hobnobbing with special interests and Ellsworth’s moderate credentials might have delivered the race to him. During his time in House, Ellsworth had a knack for pissing off Nancy Pelosi. As one of the Stupak Seven, he refused to support any health reform bill that paid for abortions with public money (he eventually came around and voted for the bill). He’s also pro-gun, and opposes any energy policy that taxes coal-burning power plants. It’s no surprise that he voted against his party almost more than any other Democrat, choosing to represent his constituency’s interests over his party’s.
What, then, did Indiana voters find so objectionable? That he’s a Democrat. Obama barely won the state in 2008, and the Indiana electorate is historically bipolar. Ellsworth’s strict adherence to the center, along with voters’ skepticism of Coats’ illustrious lobbying record, should have kept him safe. But Coats’ ability to tap into the nation’s anti-incumbent fervor paid off, seemingly proving that all you needed to prevail this year was to not be a Democrat. (Ellsworth’s loss is also likely to be a Democratic double-whammy: His House seat in the Indiana 8th will probably be picked up by Republican Larry Buchson). Meanwhile, his lobbying record doesn’t seem to have been much of a liability.