Rogue Democratic candidate Tamyra d’Ippolito has already begun questioning the legality, or at least the ethics, of the Democratic plan to push the nomination of Evan Bayh’s potential successor to the Senate, but she’s not the only one.  Republican lawyers started scrutinizing Indiana statutes last night and think they’ve found a problem with either approach Democrats might use.  Politico’s Ben Smith has a statement from NRSC chief counsel Sean Cairncross that suggests that the Bayh retirement might have created a mine field for Democrats:

Senator Bayh told Hoosiers today that he will not stand as a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010. Certainly, Senator Bayh will therefore not file a Declaration of Candidacy in Indiana. Doing so would amount to signing a false sworn document declaring a candidacy that Senator Bayh has no intent to pursue.

The deadline for Declarations of Candidacy for federal office in Indiana is noon on Friday, February 19, 2010. The Declaration is important: it makes clear to Hoosiers who is running for what office. Moreover, Senate candidate filings must demonstrate Hoosiers’ support for that individual’s appearing on the ballot as a Senate candidate through numerous petition signatures. In Indiana, running for Senate is, as it should be, an open and transparent process.

The Indiana Democratic Party, and any individual now contemplating replacing Senator Bayh as a candidate, including Congressmen Ellsworth, Hill, Donnelly or someone else, must take their obligation under Indiana law to file their Declaration seriously.

That may create problems for all three purported candidates for the nomination.  All of them are expected to declare for re-election to the House by noon today CT.  If any of them have been collecting signatures for the Senate position, as d’Ippolito alleges Baron Hill has done, then it makes the declaration suspect.  Beyond that, any attempt to obfuscate declarations in an attempt to allow party bosses to handpick a successor may — may — violate at least the spirit of Indiana’s election statutes.

Moreover, as Dan Riehl reports, Hill has already planned to declare for the House seat last week, before Bayh’s announcement, which would certainly raise eyebrows if he also declares for the Senate:

Democratic Congressman Baron Hill has plans to file paperwork this week to seek re-election, but he must first weather the storm.

Hill’s spokeswoman Katie Moreau says her boss had planned to formally enter the race Monday before his flight was cancelled in Washington as a result of recent snowfall.

Hill hopes to secure the 9th Congressional District for a sixth term, setting up a familiar contest against former Republican Representative Mike Sodrel.

The big question will be whether any of the three current Congressmen, already hard up against the momentum in attempting to retain their own incumbency, really wants to provoke an investigation into his campaign by playing along with gaming the system just to salvage Bayh’s incumbency. If d’Ippolito’s allegations are correct, then Hill will have to answer for his double-dealing on petitions. If the conventional wisdom is correct and Democratic Party bosses in Indiana gamed the system to handpick a nominee, then the entire party will look suspect.

Of course, Hoosiers could cut off both paths at the knees by signing d’Ippolito’s petition and giving her enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That chance ends in about 45 minutes or so, so time is of the essence for “teabaggers” to pitch in on the effort … or just to give d’Ippolito a piece of their mind.

Update: Reid Wilson reports that d’Ippolito has claimed to have the signatures to appear on the primary ballot:

Restaurant owner Tamyra d’Ippolito (D) has enough signatures to make the ballot in the race to replace Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), she told Hotline OnCall in a brief interview.

Reached at her home, d’Ippolito said she was on her way out the door to drop off more signatures at the county clerk’s office. D’Ippolito’s backers have until noon to submit 4,500 signatures, including 500 from each of the state’s 9 districts, to the appropriate county clerks.

“To my knowledge, yes we do. There’s people putting in signatures as we speak,” d’Ippolito said when asked if she has the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. “The answer is yes.”

If she gets on the ballot, d’Ippolito will throw a serious wrench in Dem hopes of keeping the seat. If she is on the ballot as the only Dem contender, she would prevent the state party from filling the vacancy with a candidate of their own, likely an experienced contender.

If Democrats get caught with their pants down on this one, they can thank Bayh and a too-cute strategy to screw Indiana Democrats out of the opportunity to nominate the candidate of their choice.

Update: The Democrats dodged a bullet here when it turned out that d’Ippolito couldn’t get signatures in the 7th District:

An official in Marion Co. (IN) tells Hotline OnCall d’Ippolito turned in just 3 signatures in the 7th CD, the district with the highest percentage of Dem voters. The noon deadline has passed, meaning d’Ippolito failed to meet the requirements to get on the ballot. She would have been required to submit 4,500 signatures, including at least 500 from each of the state’s 9 districts.

Unless d’Ippolito managed to find 497 more valid signatures in that district at the last minute, then she’s failed to qualify.  She had to get a minimum of 500 signatures in each of the state’s nine districts in order to qualify.