When Rep. Mike Pence officially dismissed the possibility of challenging Sen. Evan Bayh’s re-election bid, Democrats appeared to heave a sigh of relief.  That relief will be short-lived.  Dan Coats, who represented Indiana in the House and Senate for eighteen years, has decided to challenge his successor in this year’s election:

In an exclusive statement to Howey Politics Indiana, Coats explained, “Throughout my life, I have been drawn to serving my country, starting as a young man in the Army, and then as a member of the House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and most recently as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. After coming back from Germany I was content to return to the private sector.  But like many Hoosiers, I have become increasingly alarmed and frustrated about the direction of our country and the failure by leaders in Washington to listen to those they were elected to represent.  While Hoosier families have tightened their belts and sacrificed to make ends meet during these tough economic times, our elected officials in Washington continue to run up massive deficits, recklessly borrowing and spending record amounts of taxpayer money with no regard for the future generations of Americans who will inherit this staggering and ever-increasing debt.”

How does this impact the playing field?  Politico reports that the GOP is delighted to see Coats return to electoral politics:

“Coats deciding to run is a product of the environment we’re in right now,” the GOP official said. “This is a great opportunity for us. We have a real player on the field that they weren’t expecting us to have.”

Coats isn’t the only former Congressman in the race.  Former Rep. John Hostettler, part of the 1994 Contract with America class, has already thrown his hat in the ring, as has state Senator Marlin Stutzman.  Neither of these two have won a statewide election before now.  Coats won his own Senate term after first coming to the Senate by appointment to fill Dan Quayle’s seat after he won the 1988 election to become vice president.  Coats retired after that term, allowing Bayh to beat Fred Helmke for the seat, but later served as Ambassador to Germany.

Unfortunately for Coats, he may be best remembered now for his attempt to help George Bush win confirmation to the Supreme Court for Harriet Miers.  Coats was the sherpa forced into defending Miers’ lightweight resume by arguing that the court had perhaps become too intellectual.  Since then, Coats has stayed out of the political limelight altogether, and may never have thought to run again until disaffection with Democrats reached its current fever pitch.

Still, the emergence of Coats makes Bayh’s re-election look less certain than it did after Pence’s demurral.  It also indicates how strong the draw will be for strong Republicans to enter races in the midterms.

Update: Indiana, not Illinois.  I’ve had Illinois on the brain today, sorry for the confusion.