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Democratic Sen. Bayh of Indiana won't run for reelection
After those setbacks, Bayh had privately considered announcing his retirement several months ago.
He was also facing the likelihood of a serious race this fall in a difficult national environment for Democrats. Former senator Dan Coats (R), whose seat Bayh claimed in 1998, announced this month that he would challenge the Democratic incumbent this fall. And despite a rocky start to his campaign, Coats posed what could have been the most serious threat to Bayh in his political career.
Republicans said privately that Bayh's support for Obama's health-care bill made him vulnerable, and they made it clear that they would make his wife, Susan, an issue in the campaign -- namely her membership on several corporate boards.
Still, polling released last week showed him leading Coats by 20 percentage points. Bayh also had one of the Senate's largest campaign war chests -- his $13 million would have armed him for a tough campaign.
"Ultimately, he could have held the Senate seat for as long as he wanted," said one Democratic consultant who has worked extensively in Indiana. "My sense is that he didn't want the job anymore -- it's as simple as that."
Bayh's announcement has Indiana Democrats scrambling before Wednesday's deadline to submit signatures to qualify for the ballot. Party strategists said privately that no candidate will be able to collect the thousands of signatures needed to qualify, meaning that the nominee will almost certainly be chosen by the Democratic state central committee, a group of two dozen party insiders. Several candidates have been mentioned, including Reps. Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth and Baron P. Hill; Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel; and 2008 gubernatorial candidate Jim Schellinger.
"You're missing the main Democratic brand in the modern era of Democratic politics," said Brian Howey, who publishes a political newsletter about Indiana politics. "There's a drop-off there" when it comes to the other Democrats being mentioned as replacements, he added.
For Bayh, 54, the decision marks the close -- at least for now -- of a career that was long expected to end in the White House. The son of longtime senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Evan was regarded as a political wunderkind almost since birth. At 30, he was elected Indiana's secretary of state. Two years later, in 1988, he won the governorship. He was reelected easily in 1992 and left office in 1996 because of term limits but he quickly pivoted in 1998 to a run for the seat being vacated by Coats, who was retiring. Again, Bayh was largely unchallenged -- winning that open-seat race with 64 percent of the vote, and his 2004 reelection bid with 62 percent.
In the Senate, Bayh has developed a reputation as a centrist. He serves on the Armed Services, banking, Energy and Natural Resources, and Intelligence committees. Throughout his tenure, he joined a series of working groups formed by moderate Republicans and Democrats to find middle-of-the-road solutions.
In 2008, for example, he was part of an effort to reach consensus on energy legislation. The 10 Democrats in the "Gang of 20," Bayh included, agreed to support a GOP push to expand gas and oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean in exchange for new investments in energy efficiency and conservation technology that many Democrats were seeking. The $84 billion New Energy Reform Act was introduced with great fanfare shortly before the general election but has since moved to the legislative back burner.
Bayh rarely asserted himself on controversial issues, however, and he often frustrated his Democratic colleagues by remaining on the periphery during major debates -- including the health-care reform effort that consumed most of last year.
Research director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.