Indiana Democratic Party leaders are poised to confirm former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh as the party's new U.S. Senate candidate after his surprise decision to seek a political comeback.
The Democratic state committee is set to vote during a private meeting Friday evening on selecting Bayh to replace former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill as the nominee for the seat now held by Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who is retiring.
Little-known perennial candidate Bob Kern of Indianapolis is the only other candidate seeking the Democratic bid.
The 60-year-old Bayh retired from the Senate in 2010, and his entry into the race boosts the chances of Democrats regaining control of the chamber this fall.
Bayh has already started spending some of his millions in campaign cash on television ads for his Senate comeback bid, even before being added to the Indiana ballot.
Bayh made the return to Indiana politics last week after a recruitment push by national Democrats and former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill's decision to withdraw as the Democratic nominee for the seat held by Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who is retiring.
Bayh's entry into the race could have national importance as Democrats try to regain control of the chamber this fall.
Hill was not considered a strong candidate to take on GOP nominee U.S. Rep. Todd Young, who was backed by Republican establishment figures in the May primary against tea party favorite Rep. Marlin Stutzman.
Young and other Republicans have criticized Bayh for remaining in Washington, D.C., where he has been a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm and joined several corporate boards since leaving the Senate. Young calls Bayh a Washington "super-lobbyist."
Bayh said during a campaign stop Thursday in Fort Wayne that he would defend himself.
"I'm not going to let my opponent lie about me," he said. "But I would much prefer to focus upon creating jobs, making college affordable, those kind of things that help Hoosier families."
The 60-year-old Bayh, was a two-term governor before winning his first Senate election in 1998, will have advantages of name identification and campaign cash over Young.
Federal Election Commission reports show Bayh had nearly $9.5 million in his campaign account at the end of June, while Young's campaign says it had about $1.2 million in the bank.
Bayh cited frustration with Washington gridlock when he retired, but began airing TV ads around the state last week in which he says that partisanship has become even worse and he "can't sit on the sidelines."
Little-known perennial candidate Bob Kern of Indianapolis is the only challenger to Bayh for the Democratic nomination.
The Indiana Republican state committee will be making a similar ballot decision on Tuesday when it votes on a substitute for Gov. Mike Pence after he dropped his re-election bid to become Donald Trump's running mate.
The leading candidates are Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Rokita. The winner will have to quickly ramp up a campaign against former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, who is running a second time after a narrow loss to Pence in 2012.