May 20, 11:23 AM EDT

Tea party favorite enters race for Souder's seat

Associated Press Writer

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) -- The Indiana state senator and tea party favorite who finished second in this month's Republican U.S. Senate primary announced Thursday he would seek the U.S. House seat of Mark Souder, who is resigning in the wake of revelations about his extramarital affair.

Marlin Stutzman, considered by many a front-runner for the Republican nomination for the northeastern Indiana seat after his strong showing in the Senate primary, entered the race two days after Souder's resignation announcement.

Stutzman said he confronted Souder about rumors of infidelity a couple of years ago and that the congressman denied them.

Stutzman, a farm owner from Howe, is a favorite among tea party voters and finished second to former Sen. Dan Coats in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary.

A special election in the 3rd District to complete Souder's term through this year hasn't yet been set. Caucuses of Republican and Democratic committeemen will pick the special election nominees.

"We must have strong, principled, accountable leadership in Washington that will stand strong for Hoosier values and represent 'We the People,'" Stutzman said in his announcement.

Souder, an evangelical Christian who promoted abstinence education and the virtues of family values, said Tuesday that he would resign effective Friday after publicly admitting that he cheated on his wife of 36 years with a married part-time aide.

Monica Boyer, a leader of the Kosciusko County tea party group Silent No More, said she was "heartbroken" over Souder's actions and would back Stutzman. Her group didn't endorse candidates in the Republican primary, but said Stutzman fits the profile of a candidate who is "fiscally, socially and morally conservative."

Stutzman was first elected to the Indiana Senate in 2008 after six years in the Indiana House.

Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said before Stutzman's announcement that a switch to the congressional race would take away Stutzman's "ability to say he's not a career politician, which was his argument against Dan Coats."

But Boyer didn't think it would be a problem.

"I don't feel that he's jumping from one race to another," she said. "I feel that he's answering the call of the people. We're asking him to jump in."

Other possible candidates include two Republicans whom Souder defeated in the primary - Bob Thomas and Phil Troyer - as well as state Reps. Randy Borror of Fort Wayne, Wes Culver of Goshen and Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Liz Brown.

Democrat Tom Hayhurst, a former Fort Wayne city councilman, is his party's nominee for November's general election. Parker said Hayhurst also would likely be Democrats' pick for the special election since he is their strongest candidate. ... TE=DEFAULT

(evidently the AP has since updated the title on this story)