By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com staff writer
Monday, December 4, 2006
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) announced yesterday that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, a move that allows him to raise money and travel the country in support of a potential national candidacy in 2008.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Bayh said the American people "need someone who can deal with the dysfunction here in this city so that our government begins to empower our people to fulfill their potential," adding: "If I can be that individual, so be it." He said he expects to make a final decision on whether to run by early 2007.
Bayh's announcement caps a busy week in Democratic presidential politics as Gov. Tom Vilsack (Iowa) formally announced his bid, former senator Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) dropped out of the race, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) began to test the 2008 waters. Clinton is reaching out to members of the New York congressional delegation, seeking advice and support in case she decides to run. Obama said that on Dec. 10 he will visit New Hampshire, a key early primary state.
The Republican race has already begun in earnest as well. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani have formed exploratory committees, and outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) is expected to join the field shortly after the new year.
Bayh's announcement has long been expected. Since winning reelection in 2004, the Indiana senator has focused heavily on bolstering his presidential résumé -- traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire, raising millions of dollars for himself and other Democratic candidates, and assembling a staff of operatives with national experience. As of Sept. 30, Bayh had $10.6 million in his Senate account -- all of which can be transferred to a presidential bid.
Bayh was slated to spend today campaigning in Iowa, and then head to New Hampshire later in the week to do the same. He has already begun looking for office space in both states as well as interviewing potential staff members in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Later this month Bayh will host a meeting of his top financial backers in Washington. He is also interviewing media consultants; Anita Dunn, Bayh's longtime media adviser, will not play that role should he run for president but will remain a senior strategist for the campaign.
"The exploratory committee will allow us to put an infrastructure in place so that as soon as a decision is made, we can turn the switch and be an up-and-running, high-caliber presidential campaign on day one," said Bayh spokesman Dan Pfeiffer.
While his active planning for a presidential bid has spanned much of the past two years, Bayh's potential on the national stage has been a matter of speculation for more than two decades. The son of former senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) -- himself a failed presidential candidate in 1976 -- Evan Bayh was elected Indiana secretary of state in 1986, and in 1988, at age 32, won the governorship. Easily reelected in 1992, Bayh began running in late 1996 for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Dan Coats (R). In November 1998 he was elected to the Senate with 64 percent of the vote, and six years later coasted to a second term.
Bayh's electoral success in a state regularly won by Republicans in presidential contests -- Lyndon Johnson was the last Democratic nominee to carry Indiana -- is at the core of his campaign-in-waiting. Bayh's allies argue that he is the lone candidate with a proven record of winning the votes of Republicans and independents, a necessity for the party's chances of retaking the White House in 2008.
"Evan Bayh has developed a formula for winning under the most difficult of circumstances," Pfeiffer wrote after the midterm elections. "He is fiscally responsible, tough on national security, shares the values of middle-class families, and values progress over partisanship."
Although his résumé is impressive, Bayh is little known outside Indiana. National polling and surveys in early-voting states show Bayh as barely a blip on the radar screen when compared with such figures as Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards.
Bayh acknowledged his underdog status in the "This Week" interview. "Is this a little bit like David and Goliath?" he said. "A little bit, but as I recall, David did okay."