[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/03/art.coats.gi.jpg caption="Former Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana is a step closer to winning back his old job."]
(CNN) - The establishment candidates came out on top in two of the three heavily contested Senate primary battles Tuesday. And while a win's a win, it wasn't so pretty.
Former Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana is a step closer to winning back his old job. Coats won his state's Republican primary battle for the Senate, beating four other candidates. Unofficial results indicate the former two-term senator won just under 40 percent of the vote, with state senator Marlin Stutzman placing second with 30 percent and former Rep. John Hostettler in third with 21 percent.
Stutzman's silver medal can be considered impressive, considering he was less well known statewide than Hostettler, who served 12 years in Congress. Stutzman was endorsed and helped by conservative Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and by local Tea Party groups.
"Marlin had the odds stacked against him," said DeMint in a statement released by his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee. "This was his first statewide race and he was opposed by the Washington establishment. Yet he exceeded all expectations with an unwavering commitment to conservative principles. Marlin ran a strong campaign and has a bright future ahead of him."
The 66-year-old Coats, who retired from the Senate in early 1999, served as U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush, and has worked as a lobbyist.
In a possible taste of things to come, national Democrats criticized Coats' years as a lobbyist.
"Tonight, Indiana Republicans chose a deeply flawed candidate by selecting a Washington lobbyist as their nominee," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz in a statement.
Coats now faces-off against Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth in the general election. The race is to fill the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who is not running for re-election this year.
Bayh announced his retirement in mid-February, too late for any leading Democrat to organize the effort necessary to get on the primary ballot. Indiana Democratic party leaders unified around Ellsworth as their choice, a point National Republican Senatorial Campaign chairman Sen. John Cornyn highlighted in a statement Tuesday night.
"Unlike the Democrat party bosses who plan to hand-pick their nominee this month without an open primary election, Republicans in Indiana have participated in a spirited, open, and inclusive primary contest over the last several months," said Cornyn.
Coats landed several conservative endorsements, including those from lawmakers Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, former Indiana Rep. Chris Chocola, president of Club for Growth, an organization that preaches fiscal conservatism, and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. However, the big question for Republicans is whether the 60 percent of GOP primary voters who did not support Coats will now be inspired by his nomination.
"I think what happens on Wednesday in Indiana is more important than what happens on Tuesday," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Republicans will need to unite behind a Coats candidacy in order to take back a Democratic-held Senate seat. Indiana is not a Democratic state, but Coats will need every Republican vote possible to win."
While DeMint praised Stutzman, he was clear he now supports Coats.
"This primary was competitive but now it's time for Republicans to unite behind Dan so he can defeat the Democrat in November," said DeMint, in his statement.
It's a mirror image in Ohio, where Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, considered to be the establishment candidate thanks to the nod of state and national Democrats, won his party's Senate nomination. Fisher topped Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner by 11 points. On the eve of the primary, a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Democratic primary voters indicated that Fisher held a 20-point leader over Brunner.
Fisher started the campaign as the slightly better-known candidate and raised more money than Brunner, but in the end the results were closer than the closing surveys suggested. Fisher, who spent a good amount of money fending off Brunner, now turns his attention to Republican Rob Portman. The former congressman who also served as the younger President Bush's White House budget director, had no real primary competition. The race in November is to succeed retiring Republican Sen. George Voinovich.
The jury is still out in North Carolina, the other competitive Senate primary battle held Tuesday. No Democratic candidate won the 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, who was recruited by national Democrats, will face-off in a June 22 runoff. The winner will challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr in November's general election.
Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn