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IN-Sen: Who Will Be The Candidate?

The situation in Indiana in the wake of the retirement of Evan Bayh is becoming a bit clearer.

Tamyra d’Ippolito, the cafe owner from Bloomington who had been running a no-budget campaign for the primary, used the tail end of her 15 minutes of fame to punch out multiple updates on her Facebook page, claiming she was absolutely going to qualify for the ballot and then adding this:

The leaders of our country never desired for us to be hung up on numbers of signatures. They wanted us to vote for the best person to be in office to represent the people.

It’s an interesting Constitutional challenge, to be sure, the “there were no petition signature gathering rules in the 18th century” defense. But I don’t think it’ll fly.

Now who knows, maybe she actually has the signatures, as she told Fox News today. But reaching out at the last minute to “teabaggers” to sign her petition doesn’t show a ton of political savvy or inspire confidence that she’ll get it done.

In that case, if there’s no Democratic qualifier for the ballot, there wouldn’t be a primary, and instead the state Democratic Party would handpick a candidate for November. Evan Bayh, for his part, called this a good thing last night to state Democratic leaders.

Bayh said the timing of his announcement could be a positive for Democrats. The source said that Bayh told the call that the lack of a primary would mean that the Republican party candidates would attack each other on their own, with no Democrats to get in the way. On the Democratic side of the process, according to the source, Bayh said officials would choose a strong nominee from their “deep bench.”

“He said, ‘if this goes to the state committee then we’ll have selected a candidate without a divisive primary,'” the source told me this evening.

With less than a week until the deadline for potential candidates to gather the necessary signatures to get listed on the primary ballot, it’s unlikely that there could be a Democratic primary to replace Bayh even if Democrats wanted one. But, according to the source, Bayh and Parker suggested on the call that not having a public vote on who Indiana’s next Democratic nominee for Senate will be could be a positive come November.

Yes, if there’s one thing people like, it’s not having a say in their candidates. That’s why there’s that mass popular movement to repeal the 17th Amendment.

But setting that aside, who would then be the likely candidate to replace Bayh? One pick who was talked about as a replacement bowed out yesterday:

According to a national Democratic official speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Democratic short list to replace Bayh is: U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Evansville, U.S. Rep. Baron Hill of Seymour and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.

Weinzapfel, who is considering a 2012 run for governor, immediately withdrew himself from consideration, saying in a statement he is honored to be mentioned, but “not interested in pursuing this opportunity.”

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and US Rep. Joe Donnelly also declined a run yesterday, as did former Governor Joe Kernan. As for the remaining candidates, Hill and Ellsworth still appear to be available, along with names like former state Attorney General Joe Hogsett, state lawmaker Vi Simpson, 2008 gubernatorial candidate Jim Schellinger and former DNC Chair Joe Andrew.

The issue with Hill and Ellsworth is parallel to the issue with Bayh; if they are plucked out of their House races, whatever candidate running in a primary against them gets to fight to be the nominee, and if there is no candidate, the state party would choose that nominee as well. There are a couple no-budget candidates in Hill’s race, which essentially means conceding that seat to former Rep. Mike Sodrel. As of the moment nobody is challenging Ellsworth, which means the successor could be handpicked (Weinzapfel, from this district, would return to the mix in that case). But that open seat would still be difficult to hold in this environment.

Indiana Democrats have until June 30 to make this decision, provided that d’Ippolito doesn’t surprise and make it onto the ballot.

UPDATE: According to Indiana Democratic Party chair Dan Parker, d’Ippolito has 22 signatures for the ballot, somewhat less than 4,500.

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David Dayen

David Dayen