INDIANAPOLIS — It's been more than a decade since Dan Coats last took a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate. But, the former Indiana Senator, Congressman and U.S. Ambassador now appears set to make a run at taking back the seat he gave up 12 years ago. Coats issued a statement Wednesday saying, in part, he is prepared to "test the waters" for another Senate race. He also gave the green light to supporters, who will now begin collecting signatures that could put his name on the primary ballot this May. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Columbus) and Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R) both considered, but rejected a run for the Senate seat — currently held by Evan Bayh (D) — last month. Rokita now plans to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Monticello), who isn't running for another term. Republican leaders hailed the announcement of Coats' potential run Thursday as a "recruiting coup" that could help the party cut into the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill following the recent "upset" election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Brown was sworn into office on Capitol Hill on Thursday, less than two weeks after defeating heavily favored Democrat Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy. In the world of Hoosier politics, there aren't many names bigger than Coats. A former aide to then Rep. Dan Quayle, Coats won a tight race for his Congressional seat in 1980. He was appointed to Quayle's Senate seat in 1988 when Quayle was elected as Vice-President, and was then elected to the seat in 1990 and 1992. Coats elected not to run for the Senate again in 1998. Bayh has held the seat ever since. Coats was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Germany by President George W. Bush in 2001. He left that post in 2005 to become a lobbyist with the Washington firm King & Spalding on Capitol Hill, which aids — among other clients — banks like Bank of America who have taken federal bailout funds. Frustrated by what he called in a statement late Wednesday "the alarming direction of our country," Coats may now be prepared to come back for the heavyweight fight GOP leaders have been hoping for with Bayh. "His polling numbers are dropping like a brick," said Indiana Senate President Pro-Tem David Long (R), speaking to WRTV-TV in Indianapolis about Bayh. "He's been straddling an awful lot of issues for a long time and it's coming home to roost." "The polling data is beginning to show that Senator Bayh is vulnerable. He's vulnerable because of the health care vote. And these candidates feel like they need to step in and say something now, before an agenda that's completely out of keeping with their values becomes law," said St. Joseph County Republican Party Chairman Chris Riley. WSBT's Calls to both Bayh's and Coats' offices Thursday for comment were not returned. In Coats, Republicans see two key things, said Saint Mary's College Political Science Professor Dr. Sean Savage. "The first is name recognition. There are a lot of people, particularly active within the Republican Party, who remember Dan Coats. The second is connections in Washington that will allow him to effectively fund-raise," Savage said. "When you combine those two factors, it means that Coats would probably be the strongest possible Republican candidate against Evan Bayh," Savage continued. Several other Republicans — including State Sen. Marlin Stutzman (R-Howe) and former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler have also announced their intent to run for the seat. State Democratic leaders immediately began attacking Coats' potential candidacy Wednesday, citing his current residence in Virginia as a "liability" that voters won't go for. But Savage says Coats' time away from Indiana could actually be his biggest political asset in terms of fund-raising. Even some key Democrats admitted there's likely a battle ahead. "He'll be a formidable candidate you can't take lightly," said Indiana House Speaker B. Pat Bauer (D-South Bend). That potential battle could even spill over onto other parts of the ballot, Savage said. "If you can get a big name like Dan Coats to run a competitive race against Bayh, then it means that Republicans and Republican leaning independents that would be otherwise inclined to stay home and not vote at all are now more likely to show up and vote," Savage said. "And, while going to the polls to vote for Coats, they could be more likely to say--vote Republicans in the Congressional race against Joe Donnelly or in the race for Steve Buyer's seat," Savage continued. "It's going to help everybody on the ticket," agreed Riley. "That's not to say that the other candidates won't eventually cause that excitement themselves. But, if he joins the race, I think it will enhance the discussion. And, I think the other candidates would say so as well." But, before he can become one of those candidates, Coats has to get at least 500 signatures from registered voters in each of the state's nine congressional districts. "That doesn't sound like much," said Riley. "But, logistically, getting those petitions signed is much more of an uphill battle than one might expect. You have to make sure they're registered voters. It has to go through a vetting process with voter registration. And to do that, you often have to be at events where a number of Republicans are going to be." Still, to collect 4,500 signatures shouldn't be a preventative issue, Savage said. "I think they'll probably get it done. It's not really a huge barrier," he said. But, the clock is ticking. All signatures must be collected, vetted and submitted by February 16th. "That's a pretty short window of time for this," said Riley. In the meantime, Coats remains in the Washington, D.C. area. Democrats point out he couldn't even sign his own petition to run because he's not an Indiana resident. So, will that harm his chances of ending up as an Indiana Senator again? "I don't think it's really going to be that big of an issue," Savage said. "As long as the minimal constitutional requirement is met — that's probably going to be good enough for most people in Indiana."